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Game Pieces from Garbage: Crafting Basics

Crafting is one of the easiest and cheapest hobbies to get into. Most of the prolific youtubers who have way more talent than me make a point of using found materials and dollar store supplies. The most I’ve spent on crafting for anything was about $10. That was for a hair dryer. Because I actually like to watch paint dry, just very quickly. Everything else came either from a dollar store or Walmart. Here’s a very general price list:

Glue Gun: $3

Paint brushes, box cutter, scissors, white glue: $1 each

Paints: 50 cents each at Walmart

Materials: whatever you don’t feel like throwing out.

Almost everything on this table is a dollar or some kind of trash.

There are more things that you will probably end up getting along the way, but if this is all the stuff you have, you are more than ready to start.

Once you’ve got stuff with which to make stuff, all you need to do is decide what kind of stuff you want to make. For a first piece, my suggestion would be to start with either a basic scatter piece or a simple, multipurpose dungeon tile. This is an article about my very, very first dungeon tile. [1] Looking back now, what’s interesting to me is that there are even easier ways to put that sort of thing together. Texture paint is literally a magic spray paint that makes your tile look like it’s made of stone. Or you can use a sponge to make convincing stone patters. But the other nice thing about this hobby is that you do what works for you. I felt comfortable mounting paper to cardboard, so that’s what I did. Just get the job done. No one cares if it’s not perfect.

Dungeon tiles in particular can be some of the easiest, best places to start. One of the more popular types (and the ones I use) are what’s called 2.5D. All that means is that, as opposed to dwarven forge stuff or some molded plaster pieces, your walls are only suggested. What that means to you as a crafter is that you take a piece of cardboard, cut it to a size you want, and then glue one centimeter strips along the sides to act as your walls. In other words, you’re gluing small bits of cardboard to other cardboard. You want a building? Make a square. A big building? Make a bigger square. A cave? Make your sides wiggly, and your wall strips wiggly.

Measurements are weird.

Make enough of these, and you’ll find your projects naturally grow in scope and complexity. I ended up giving the wizard tower tile set to a friend before running full tilt boogie into the worst year of my adult life. One frozen pizza later, and I already had most of what I needed to replace this lost piece of my broken existence. So I made another tower tile, this time using texture paint. Then I made two basic tiles for use as an Inn. Actual children have pointed and laughed at these. (Then their characters gleefully killed 4 people in a bar fight and set the place on fire, as tweener gamers are wont to do. So I don’t think they cared all that much.)

Have a drink at the inn `o the snarky child!

Those three tiles were all I needed to feel good enough to about my tile making skills to attempt a complete modular set.

Lovingly hand crafted to allow players to experience only the best pain and suffering.

Outdoor pieces are actually incredibly easy to make as well. A lot of crafters swear by pink insulation foam. I’ve never actually used it because I found my way into more polystyrene than I know what to do with. And the more of that I can go through, the less likely my dumb ass cat will find it and eat it.

You think I’m joking. I am not joking.

So polystyrene is typically what I use. If you use it, keep a few things in mind:

One of the most important things you’re going to need when you start crafting terrain is good flocking. If you go online and look up flocking on Amazon, or worse, a gaming store, you will get what amounts to a very expensive price to pay for green fuzzy bits. I’m sure that stuff works well, but as a gaming crafter, half the fun is making cool things out of literal garbage. So when I make flocking, I use old coffee grounds [2].

I’ve actually read whole discussions on the pros and cons of using your spice rack for various flocking needs. (Pro tip: garlic powder might look great for sand, but it will make your gaming space smell like it’s expecting a vampire attack.) The thing to remember is keep it dry, and whenever possible use a sealer. I’ve also seen old pencil shavings used in pretty cool ways.

That all said, this is how I make an outdoor piece: I cut or break a piece of polystyrene into shape. Do a coat of brown. Dry brush (super light brushing with barely any paint on an otherwise dry brush) the sides with light brown because it looks good and then it seems like I know what I’m doing. Spread white glue over the top like I’m Ralph Wiggum on a paste bender. Then bury it in my coffee flocking. Then I shake off the excess and leave it to dry somewhere overnight.

Lastly, there’s the subject of paints. You can use as many different kinds as you like, a lot of crafters like having hundreds of paints, but my preference is for a basic color wheel with just a few flourishes. My total collection of colors is red, blue, yellow, green, white, black, dark brown, light brown, dark grey, light grey, light blue, and something called gunmetal gray (aka kinda sparkly gray) for things I need to look metallic. My feeling is that if I need anything else, I’ll mix it from what I have. So far I’ve only needed to make orange when making a fireball template.

Colored pencil over a print out, mounted to card stock from a cereal box with rubber cement, then covered in strips of clear packing tape to laminate it. (The other sides were painted, I just don’t have any pictures of it.)

There is a lot more which can be said, but my main goal is to convey how easy this actually is to do. It took me the better part of a year to start tinkering, and even longer before it was a full fledged “thing I did”. And the only thing that stopped me was my own squirmyness that I might make something crappy. That’s just not a good enough reason not to do something. A lot of crafting is almost like a recipe. Most of us aren’t pastry chefs, but we still make good cakes all the time. And crappy cake is still pretty good.

So again, if you’re curious, watch a bunch of youtube, then just go. I’m happy to answer questions, but you’ll also get equally good or better answers from the various forums, online groups, and youtubers who also do this, and do it way better than me. Either way, I hope this has been a good read. Please tell us any thoughts you might have. And happy gaming.