If you’re just here for the links, here they are. These are all available through DriveThruRPG because I’m lazy, and it’s really easy to find free models on there. If you click on any of these products, you’ll also see a bunch of free “customers who bought this title also purchased” options at the bottom, so…go nuts, I guess.
- Vyllage House Color Building Kit
- Winter Adventures
- Town Square Clock Tower
- Deli/Dry Cleaner
- Industrial Station Wreckage
If you’re still reading, I can only assume it’s because you want advice, anecdotes, and the ability to laugh at my poor life choices.
I included the time I took to build all these so you have a rough idea of how complex each build is. Two things about that. One, these are all rush jobs. Taking longer than I did will end with better-looking results. Two: I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in kind of a papercraft haze, so I’ve gotten pretty fast at putting these together—at first, you’re going to want to budget probably 150% of the time I took at minimum.
Materials: Five Things you Probably Want and One Thing You Definitely Don’t
Let’s start with talking about materials, in descending order of “you’re gonna want this.” On the upside, with the exception of the printer/toner itself, these materials are all fairly cheap, and thanks to our commercial obsession with maintaining productivity as a huge chunk of the workforce starts working in their PJs from the living room, are easily available through your ordering website of choice. Be nice to your delivery person.
- Printer. Unless you have the artistic and geometric talent to free-hand this kind of thing (in which case, why are you reading this?) You’re going to need one. You could probably use an inkjet for these, but I wouldn’t want your ink bill—these projects use a lot of color. Does it have to be your printer? Look, I’m not your boss, but you probably shouldn’t be sneaking into your office for hobby crafts in the midst of a global pandemic.
- Glue. Pretty much any kind will work. I ended up using a combination of glue pens, school glue, and hot glue when I got impatient, but really, any of them will work.
- Utility or Hobby Knife for Cutting and Scoring: In a pinch, you can use scissors (I did so for part of the projects in my last article), or a kitchen knife, but it’s going to be slower, more frustrating, and more dangerous depending on how you hold the scissors. Always practice safety with sharp things like knives, scissors, and observations from your friends who know you well enough to make it hurt (you know who you are). All of these projects require “scoring,” which sounds enough like something we had to do in gym class to intimidate some of us, but it’s just lightly cutting the top layers of the craft so it folds easier and cleaner. Pay attention to which side you have to score. I didn’t a couple of times and regretted it.
- Cardstock. I understand that these crafts can be done with regular paper. Several folks on YouTube had videos showing their results. And…I tried. Really, I did. But struggling to get the paper that somehow got glue everywhere to stay where it was supposed to instead of just falling apart, going limp, or darting in the exact opposite direction reminded me of nothing so much as what I hear it’s like getting a toddler ready for school in the morning. This served to both drive home how I definitely don’t have the patience for children, and that I personally really needed to use cardstock for these projects. I understand that you can glue regular paper to cereal boxes before you cut the projects out to get even better results, but we didn’t have cereal boxes; I can’t personally vouch for that option.
- Markers. I used brown furniture markers on the corners and edges of most of these projects (though I did use a blue dry erase marker for a couple). You don’t need markers, promise. But it does make the edges look cleaner, and when you screw up, marking over the area basically makes it so it never happened, which was a refreshing break from most of my mistakes. …when you screw up, marking over the area basically makes it so it never happened, which was a refreshing break from most of my mistakes.This will absolutely destroy the markers that you use for this though, so maybe don’t use your solid gold heirloom/artisanal Sharpie.
- The Complete Absence of Mod Podge. This is last on the list because you don’t need it, and probably shouldn’t use it (unless you’re taking the cereal box approach). Putting Mod Podge on papercrafts sounds like a great way to seal the toner and make the projects last longer, but it won’t work the way you’re thinking. In practice, it makes your final result look like you left it outside in a light rain, if rain were made of polyvinyl acetate and varnish, which at the current rate of EPA rollbacks, shouldn’t happen for at least another week or two. It might work for projects that are made from gluing multiple pieces of cardstock together to make a thicker piece, but even that’s a risk.
Vyllage House Color Building Kit (15 minutes total):
Start with this one. The scale is a little small for most miniatures, but this only requires one sheet of cardstock and goes fast. This will help you get the basics down, and later projects will go much faster once you have a solid, tactile grasp of how the glue, folding and scoring work together. Give yourself time to get it right—the more of these you do the faster it will go. Because it’s all on one sheet, scaling it up will probably be harder than is really justified, but hey: it’s free. And it’s quick, and it teaches you the basics.
Winter Adventures (2 hours, 15 minutes total):
This used to be a paid set of patterns, and it shows: there is a lot here. I didn’t even try to make everything, because there was so much, but I really like Fat Dragon Games papercraft buildings, so I thought I’d try some of their more natural stuff. Ultimately, papercraft is never going to be great at imitating natural lines, but this set does an admirable job of trying to overcome those limitations. You’ll probably want to turn off the ice layer on the pdf for most of these, since it just kind of looks like an undifferentiated mass of blue with the ice layer on.
- Bridge (15 minutes): The bridge alone makes this set worth the price (which, again, is literally nothing). This comes together fast, and is strong enough to actually support minis when suspended across something you need to…bridge.
- Waterfall (23 minutes): To be honest, I’m not a fan of how this turned out, but it definitely gets across the impression of “this is a waterfall” better than just writing WATERFALL on a vinyl mat.
- Small Cave Door (17 minutes): This is one of those cases where you really want to pay attention to which side of things you score on. I initially tried to make the larger door that came with the set and…didn’t do that. I ended up throwing the whole thing away because it looked terrible, but the second, smaller door actually looks pretty cool.
- Wall (20 minutes): This is another “pay attention to which side you score on” build. There are a lot of walls, connectors, pillars, etc. in this set. If you need some verticality for an encounter, or have the time to make a bunch of these, you could do a whole frozen labyrinth, which would be, honestly, freaking awesome. If you do this, post pictures.
- Complex Tree (1 hour): The designer of this piece was clearly engaged in some kind of arboreal necromantic ritual. It took eight whole freaking pages of cardstock to make this, meaning that I had to indiscriminately slaughter what had to be a small forest to make a single tree. That said, the horizontal branches will support a light miniature, and the result doesn’t look half-bad, so if you can get over the guilt of being low-level Captain Planet villain, go for it. Shame.
Town Square Clock Tower (45 minutes total):
For this one, the clock itself took about half an hour, and the stone bench took another fifteen minutes. This set comes with multiple benches per sheet though, so if you like them, you might want to make more. It also comes with a “monument pillar,” which is to say exactly the same thing as the clock tower, just without the clock face. The clock tower might be the best combination of “cool” and “quick” in this article.
Deli/Dry Cleaner (1 Hour Total):
I’m not going to complain too much about a free model, but it’s rarely a good sign when the instructions include disclaimers about tolerances in printers being different and how that might result in things not fitting properly. Don’t start with this one, because you’ll need to score in different places than it has marked to make it all fit together right—having experience with other models will help you do this. To watch this in action, feel free to check out this time lapse video of me fumbling with the build. This is also “heroic” scaled (1.5 inch squares, rather than 1 inch), so you might want to print it at 66%, but other than the squares, it actually looks about right scaled as is.
With all that ungrateful moaning out of the way, this is free. And it’s a great little modern building when it’s all done. I do strongly recommend this one if you do anything modern at all (or if you’re playing a post-apocalyptic game and want to throw in something that shows how things “used to be”).
Industrial Station Wreckage (1 hour total):
While the walls on this one are very visually flat, it’s sturdy and tactically interesting, with a bunch of additional pieces to make the walls “pop” a little bit more. If you find yourself playing modern or post-apocalyptic games a lot, this piece is bound to see some use. This set also included a sort of retro-looking Van De Graaff generator thing, which I built, but ultimately threw away because it took up a lot of space without actually adding much. If I had it to do over again, I just wouldn’t build it. It also includes miniatures for some small tank-like things that I also didn’t use, but you might get some mileage out of.
Observatory (51 minutes total):
Remember how I said aaaaaaaall the way at the beginning of the article that these were all rush jobs? Nowhere is it clearer than with this one. Doing it right and well would probably have taken twice as much time, but I got impatient and just hot glued the top pieces together. It was faster that way, but it definitely shows.
As far as cool pieces are concerned, this one is awesome if you have the patience for it. The set comes with three different materials for the observatory to be built out of, and each one only takes a single sheet of card stock. The combination of minimal materials required and end result (even when it’s rushed) makes this one a great addition to any fantasy or steampunk table.
Miniatures (30 minutes total):
I originally wasn’t going to do any paper miniatures, but then I realized that I wanted to show the scale of some of these buildings without breaking the theme of free papercrafts. There are a lot of free papercraft minis out there—these just happen to be my favorite. Quality varies wildly, so don’t blindly print out everything that you see. The big advantage of papercraft miniatures like these are that you can build out a whole army of them pretty quickly and cheaply.
So that’s it: seven sets of free papercraft miniatures you can start building right now. Did I miss any free papercrafts that are your go-to? And if you end up making any of these for your home game, let me know in the comments! I’d love to see your work!