Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cultists of R'lyeh pt.2- the Pits of Despair

It took me longer than I would have thought to come up with the terrain types for the Cultist of R'lyeh board. I needed five distinct terrain types, plus a wasteland. They needed to be visually distinct, they needed to be within my sculpting capabilities, and they needed to have cool names and produce resources that sort of made sense. I bandied around several options for a few days until I finally decided on; Pits of Despair, which collect Tears of the Forsaken; Ravenous Caverns, filled with Echos of Anguish; Cyclopean Ruins, strewn with Dust of Lost Aeons; Sanguine Gorge, steeped in Blood of the Innocent; and of course Mountains of Madness, where one finds Nightmares of Delirium.

The Pits of Despair was the first terrain type that I made for my Cultists of R'lyeh game board. It was also the first time I had ever worked with cold porcelain, so it was a bit of a learning process. I chose this one to start on because I already knew how I wanted to do it, and I thought it would work out pretty simply. My design plan was to create a low jagged ring, like the edge of a crater. After painting, I would fill the crater with some polyester resin (the kind used for fiberglass), which would look like water collected in the crater.
After reading about the shrinkage factor of cold porcelain, I decided it would be best to use an armature of aluminum foil for the dead space, rather than a thick piece of the clay. I rolled up some foil into a long snake and bent it into a circle of the desired diameter. I was a little concerned about adhesion of the cold porcelain to the wooden tile surface, so I spread a thin layer of the clay onto the tile first, then put down my circle of foil. Then I covered the foil ring with more clay.
I tapered the ring upward to a thin jagged point along the ridge. I wanted it to look uneven and natural. Using my fingers, I pinched off the top edge of the clay, pulling it away, and leaving a sharp serrated edge. I also smoothed the clay out along the base, blending it into the tile surface. This would serve to give me more surface contact for better adhesion, as well as provide a seamless transition from tile top to crater edge. It also provide more surface texture to the otherwise barren tile surface. I made sure not to over extend past my edge boundary, or the clay might interfere with placing the roads and cities.
At first the surface of the crater looked too smooth, so I got out some carving tools and started tracing vertical lines all along the crater sides running from the base up to the rim. I didn't try to remove any clay that balled up in little pieces on the sides, as that would just add more surface texture. I still wasn't thrilled with the way it looked, but I didn't know what else to do to make the texture more realistic, so I just left it and hoped it would look alright after painting. I figured I might be able to do a little carving after it was dry if necessary (you can't).

In the game,each of the terrain types is repeated 3 or 4 times (except the wasteland). Since this one was a pretty easy one to sculpt, I made four of them.
It took about two days for the clay to air dry (the first day was rainy and cool). In reality, I sculpted all of the terrain tiles before I painted any of them, but for the purposes of these posts, I'll show each tile start to finish.

Painting started with a coat of flat black primer for all of the pieces. Then I had to figure our my color scheme. Since I didn't have any iconic symbols, like sheep or bricks, that I could use to easily identify and associate my terrain types with my resource cards, I decided to do matching colors. For the Pits of Despair, the definitive color was yellow.

To give me an organic natural look, I used a sea sponge stippling technique to paint almost all of the tiles. I also used layers of similar colors in differing shades, because the real world isn't just one color. Even dirt is a mixture of colors. I used four different shades of yellow, from a golden brown to a neon florescent yellow, as well as some grey and light brown. I stippled heavy on the edges, to create a border of nearly solid (layered) color, and then lighter towards the center to let more of the black base show through, like the black rocky earth being thrust up from below the surface by the impact of whatever caused the crater.
Most of the stippling was done to the tile surface. The crater got a little stippling to blend it in, but its coverage was fairly light. I finished up with the florescent neon yellow stippled around the edge and dry brushed along the surface of the crater, so that it would pop in the UV lighting in our game room.
After the paint was dry I gave it a spray of matte clear coat sealer. Then, when that was dry, I started mixing up some polyester resin. I mixed 2oz. of resin, which dries a sort of translucent yellow, which is why I thought it would be good for this tile. To make it pop in the UV lighting, I mixed in a few drops of UV reactive dye, which was much harder than I thought it would be, as the dye was water based and didn't want to mix with the resin. I had to just stir the crap out of it and make the tiny droplets of dye smaller and smaller until it looked like an even color.
After it dried, the resin separated a little bit from the sealed surface of the sculpt. The effect was odd and not what I had originally wanted, but it looked acceptable, and it was still stuck in place, so it is what it is.
Stat tuned for the rest of the board pieces!

See also:
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.1- the Desolate Waste
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.2- the Pits of Despair
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.3- the Ravenous Cavern
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.4- the Cyclopean Ruins
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.5- the Sanguine Gorge
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.6- the Mountains of Madness
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.7- the Game Pieces, Portals, et Fini
Cultists of R'lyeh - After four years of wear and tear

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cultists of R'lyeh pt.1- the Desolate Waste

For Origins 2013, I designed and built a custom giant sized Setters of Catan clone with a Cthulhu theme, that I call Cultists of R'lyeh. This involved hand sculpting nineteen seperate hexagonal tiles with six different terrain types. Committing to this build was biting off a lot for me, as my sculpting skills are not very advanced.

To start with, I needed do decide on a scale and materials for my build. The round gaming tables at Origins are 6ft. in diameter, so I designed my board to fill most of the table, with about 10 inches or so on each side for player space. With the longest row of tiles for the basic game being five tiles across, that put my tiles at roughly 10 inches across.

I wanted the tiles to be substantial, and not bend or warp easily, so I decided to use some recycled 3/4" MDF that I had laying around. This MDF used to be shelves in a local gaming store that went out of business. Then, I cut them up and painted them black (they were white shelves) and used them as post bases for movable divider walls during our Origins show in 2011. I had a huge stack of these 16 inch square pieces sitting doing nothing. Time to make some hexagons!

I scribed the hexagon onto the tile using a large pair of steel dividers. The shabby coat of black paint scratched away very easily, making for perfect scribing. Then I cut the hexagon out using a table saw. The cutting part was harder than I thought it would be. Though I could draw a perfect hexagon with no problem, I couldn't seem to cut one perfectly out of a square piece of wood using a rip fence and an angle guide. I was always off by a little bit. After much screwing around trying to refine my technique, toying with jigs and fences and such, I decided that pretty close was good enough. I took my best one, traced it out on the blank square tiles (which was much faster than using the dividers) and cut away.
After a while, I had a nice big stack of tiles, 3/4in. thick, 10 inches across (flat side to flat side) and almost perfectly hexagonal. I took a piece of the scrap MDF and used it as a guide to trace out 3/4in. from the edge of each side. This would be the margin I would leave, so that the roads and cities could be placed along the edges of the tiles. I also scuffed up the surface with some sand paper so that my sculpting medium would stick better.
For the sculpting medium, I decided to use cold porcelain, which is neither made cold, nor related to porcelain. You can check out my post about using this stuff. it is pretty cool and cheap and easy to make.

So to start off, I will show you my first terrain tile for the game. This isn't the first one I made, but it is the simplest, and there is only one of them on the board. It is called the Desolate Waste, and it is analogous to the Desert in Settlers of Catan.
Pretty simple, right? Not much going on there (trust me, they will get better). Unlike any of the other terrain tiles, this tile has a black and white color scheme. I just painted the finished tile with black primer and then dry brushed a little white around the textured area, and along the edge of the tile. The texture is meant to be sharp low rocks jutting from an otherwise barren ground. A rocky wasteland. It is black because it is always night there, the moonlight just glinting off the edges of the sharp rocky spikes. The texture was created by  simply taking a ball of the cold porcelain dough and smashing it down on the tile and lifting it up quickly, letting small pieces stick and taper upward as the ball was ripped away.

This is the home of the Haunter in Darkness (otherwise known as the Robber to you Settlers fans). To portray the Haunter in Darkness, I used a Horrorclix miniature I had, called the R'lyeh Guardian, which looks like a miniature Cthulhu.

Here it is in place, ready to play. No fair peeking at the other tiles!
Until next time.

See also:
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.1- the Desolate Waste
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.2- the Pits of Despair
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.3- the Ravenous Cavern
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.4- the Cyclopean Ruins
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.5- the Sanguine Gorge
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.6- the Mountains of Madness
Cultists of R'lyeh pt.7- the Game Pieces, Portals, et Fini
Cultists of R'lyeh - After four years of wear and tear

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cold Porcelain

One of my major build projects for this year's Origins was a giant sized custom Settlers of Catan board, with a Cthulhu theme. I call it, Cultists of R'lyeh. Nineteen hexagonal tiles had to be hand sculpted with varied terrain. I needed a sculpting medium that was easy to work with (as my sculpting skills are very meager), dried hard without baking, and was very cheap, as I would need a lot of it. After a little looking around on the web I came across cold porcelain. It is a home made air dry clay that is super easy and cheap to make. I found several recipes for it, everyone seems to have their own favorite way of formulating it, but the one I used is made from  
  • 1cup of corn starch (powder), 
  • 1 cup of white glue, 
  • 2 tablespoons of mineral oil, 
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (to prevent mold growth), and
  • a few drops of food coloring, if desired. 
 I read on one of the recipes that using 3/4 cups of white glue would make it less sticky to work with, so I cut back on the white glue by just a bit after my first batch. Just mix all these ingredients together in a pan and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. I also added a few drops of black food coloring so that the finished product would not come out white. That way if something chips or breaks the base color will be grey, which is less obvious. Some sites call for mixing this concoction over a low flame on the stove, which is what I did for my fist batch, but that requires you to stir it constantly and it takes about ten minutes to congeal. Also, clean up of the pan and spoon between batches was rough.
On subsequent batches, I followed another method I found that says you can cook it in the microwave. Just stir it all up, pop it in for 20 seconds, then stir again. Do this three times and it should be done. As I was experimenting with this process, I went a little more gently. I microwaved it for 15 seconds, then stirred, and repeated. It took seven sessions of 15 seconds each before it clumped up. Also, don't forget to switch to a microwave safe mixing bowl. I used a disposable food container. That way I could just toss it out when I was done. It did clean up much easier than the pan between batches.
After it starts to clump up, take it out of the bowl and knead it. It will be hot but not so hot you can't touch it. Some sites advocated using hand lotion on you hands and work space to keep the stuff from sticking too much. I found that dusting with corn starch was much more effective. I used a hardboard sheet covered with vinyl contact paper as my work surface. I dusted it liberally with corn starch, and kept my hands covered in corn starch as well. The whole process of kneading worked a lot like making bread dough. If the stuff was too sticky, just add a sprinkle of corn starch. If it got too dry, coat it with a little mineral oil. While I was working with it, I kept it in a zipper bag with a few drops of mineral oil to keep it from drying out.
For thick pieces of the stuff, it does take two to three days to air dry. I definitely recommend using an armature. I used aluminum foil as an armature. There is also a bit of shrinkage, maybe 20%. Also, very thin pieces are fragile. This stuff it a bit brittle when dry. Otherwise, this stuff is pretty cool to work with, and you can't beat the price. Anyway, this post is just a primer for my upcoming series of posts on the construction of the Cultists of R'lyeh board. See you soon.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bring Out Your Dead

Got off work early tonight, so I thought I'd knock out a quick post. I know it's only been a day since my last post. Don't get used to it. BTW, you may notice that some of these builds I did for Origins 2013 are not up to my usual quality. That's because they were done on a very tight time table with a small budget. I only had about three weeks (while working 60hrs a week) to complete three major builds and a few small ones.

So for this year's LARP, "The Strange Tower High in the Mist", one of the key scenes was a funeral. The Game Master was insistent that he needed a coffin for the procession and service. Of course he would have been happy with a long cardboard box with a sheet over it, but I would not have. This build took me about seven hours to complete (not including drying time) and wasn't even started until the day before we left for Origins. That's one of the reasons why there are so few pictures.

I started with two sheets of 3/8" plywood, a few sticks of 2x2 (actually, recycled ripped down 2x4s), and some brass drawer pulls. I needed this coffin to be light weight, cheap to build, simple and easily transportable. After a few aborted design concepts, I decided on a flat pack design which would be assembled on site with minimal effort.
Eschewing the traditional pinched toe coffin design as being too complicated for my time frame (needed to be done about two days prior), I went with a simple rectangular design, 24" wide, 6' long and 16" tall. The top and bottom were made identical. Each was a 24"x72" rectangle with a rectangular frame built on (with wood screws). The frame was made from 2x2s, inset from the edge by the thickness of the plywood (3/8").
The foot and head ends were cut to 16"x24". A stick of 2x2 was set upright along the corner, sitting on top of the 2x2 frame of the bottom side. it was cut to meet the bottom of the frame that would be on the lid, i.e. 16" minus the thickness of the top frame (2") and the bottom frame (2"). Two of these uprights were cut for both the head and food panels. They were screwed in place along their edges.
Finally the side boards were cut to 16"x72". No 2x2s were affixed to the sides. All the pieces were sanded with a belt sander and finished with two coats of Royal Walnut stain with Polyurethane premixed. When the finish was dry (the morning of our departure) I added the brass pull handles, three to each side. To prevent the screws from poking through to the inside of the coffin, and because 3/8 plywood is pretty thin and weak, I added small 4"x4" pucks of 3/8" plywood to the inside of the spots where the handles were screwed on. I just held the pucks in place firmly while the screws were driven into both plies of wood.
Once on site, the pieces were assembled. A few wood screws through the side boards and the head and foot boards into the fixed 2x2 rails to connect the sides, head, foot and bottom. I did not screw the top to the rest of it, so that the lid could be removed. It was a tight fit. I should have left a little more slop in my measurement. A quick wooden cross decoration hot glued to the lid and Bob's your uncle. Total build cost, about $60. Build time, about 7 hours (not including drying time). If I had to build a second one, I could probably do it in about 3 or 4 hours (not including drying time).
During the LARP, one of our minions popped out of the coffin in a ghoul mask. The pics from the LARP are pretty crappy. I will try to get some better pics of the finished coffin before I disassemble it and amend this post.
 Maybe for next year I will build one a little stronger and line it with polystyrene sheets and make it into our snack cooler!

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I just got back from Origins 2013. It's been a very hectic three weeks. Despite being back to working 60 hours a week, I had several major build projects that I had to get done before Origins. I did my best to document them in progress, but everything was rush rush rush. Now that it's over I can post some of my new builds.

First, here is a very simple one, just to get back into the groove. It literally took me less than ten minutes to make this prop for this year's LARP, "The Strange Tower High in the Mists." Even though it is very simple and easy to make, I think it makes a pretty decent prop for a game like this.

The Game Master and I were texting each other about props needed for the game, two days before the show. One of the things he said he needed was some dynamite. Just a few sticks would do. So in the midst of working on other projects, zip zip zip, I whipped these out super fast.
I started with an old piece of 1/2" pvc pipe, cut to 12" long. Then I found some scrap kraft paper with a slightly waxy appearance. I used a foam roller to spread cheap pva (white glue) on the kraft paper. Then I wrapped the pvc pipe in the paper and tucked the ends of the paper into the ends of the pipe.
For a fuse, I didn't have any convincing looking cord, so I used some green hemp twine. The twine was too thin on its own, so I folded a length of it in half and twisted it to double its thickness. Then I put a little pva on my fingers and twisted it some more, tightly, ensuring that the twist would not come unraveled, and giving the fuse a little stiffness.
I poked a hole in the wadded up paper at the end of the tube with an awl, placed a dab of white glue over the hole and inserted the end of the fuse. Once dry, the fuse is permanently affixed.
Et voilà! Four sticks of prop dynamite in under ten minutes.  It actually took me more than twice as long to make this post than it did to make the prop!
This was about the simplest thing I made for Origins this year. I have much more exciting and complex builds to post so stay tuned!