Today’s guest post is by Tomcollectice, and talks about how game crafting doesn’t have to be phenomenal artistry to be effective at the table. – Steady Hands John

Every Sunday before I game I find myself loading my car with this:

  • And a backpack full of books and notes and stuff.
  • Plus any food or snacks I feel like bringing.

Every week I arrive to my friendly gaggle of murder hobos loaded down like a hobo myself. I suppose its only fitting. This probably sounds like a pain, but I just haven’t figured out a better way to transport 80-ish modular dungeon tiles, 6 hill pieces, about a dozen cave pieces, various scatter pieces, stalagmite (stalactite? I always forget which is which), and the myriad stairs, tables, chairs (yes, chairs, in scale), beds, tents, doors, treasure chests, spell templates, one teeny tiny camp fire, and an actual bag of rocks.

I blame this man. And this one. And this one. And probably this one too. There are others. They’re all blame-worthy as well. And here’s the punchline: I’m a really, really crappy artist.

This should come as good news to anyone who’s labeled themselves “non-artistic”. Seriously, I can barely handle stick figures. Or straight lines. Or even measurements. And somehow I’m carting around Murder Hobo Magic Fun Time Land every Sunday. If my crusty punk ass can do this, trust me, you can too. And that’s because of the other good news: if you think you’re bad at art stuff, you are probably wrong.

I’m the first person to point and laugh at my theater degree, but something my artsy fartsy education instilled in me was an evangelical faith that everyone has a bit of art in them. Crafting is probably the best proof I have of this fact. And as obnoxious as I find it when my brethren wax philosophical about art like it were The Force, it is here where I start to see their point. Five years after my first effort turning frozen pizza packaging into a wizard’s tower, this little hobby within a hobby is impacting my life in unexpectedly large ways.

One of my favorite things about tabletop gaming is its ability to bring people together. It’s always brought to mind images of telling stories around a fire. Crafting only compounds this feeling. And quite frankly, this happens even if you feel like you’ve made total crap. This even happens when you try to make total crap! Calling upon all the best talent available to any toddler of moderately average intelligence, I once farted out something vaguely giant-like because I found myself needing an impromptu giant mini. And by mini, I mean “sharpie scribble sized to scale”. I might be biased. But something about it makes me smile. It made my players smile, too, which is all that matters. It made the game more fun.

Beware: the mighty scribble of doom and death and more doom!!

That fun is why you find yourself cutting organic egg cartons into endless rock-like shapes, or scoping out dollar general cardboard dumpsters like you’re prospecting, or making a point of ordering hot wings with your pizza because you need the foam clam shell to make rows of bricks. And something happens along the way: you get halfway decent. I don’t know when it happened, but my projects went from “good job, Timmy”, to “I guess those things could look like that”, to “holy crap, that looks like it’s on purpose”! And somehow, without noticing, I had become the patron saint of murder hobos, forming the world they murdered in from the giant plastic cases hauled across the various planes.

 Let me tell you what I told myself getting into this: little art leads to big art. And with that, something very important happened: I gave myself permission to suck.  
And now that I had so much stuff, that stuff turned into the thing that caught people’s eye and brought them into the hobby. Bringing in new players is always a good thing, but this also includes people like my niece and nephew, and my stepson. My nephew received his players handbook, monster manual, and dungeon master’s guide with a polite, bewildered “thank you” when he opened them as gifts. After seeing the game played with tiles and crafts, he “gets it”, he’s totally into it, and he’s bringing friends over when we play. My stepson, this strange little human I find myself trying to raise without the over protective neurosis I apply to my cats, has grown a bit obsessed. He gives me teen angst and attitude if we can’t play. Which means I have a teenager that I am simultaneously responsible for and not related to wanting to spend time with me . . . for hours. He even asked me to show him how to make stuff. How does that even happen??

Let me tell you what I told myself getting into this: little art leads to big art. And with that, something very important happened: I gave myself permission to suck.  And I could not have chosen a better community in which to suck. I barely dip my toe in the online crafting universe, and I can already tell you it is one of the most friendly and supportive places on earth. Imagine a place where the internet actually lives up to its potential to be more than just a haven for stupid angry political rants and stupid angry ranting porn. Tabletop crafting online is that impossibly good and ideal place. It actually exists, and it is a land of glue guns, cardboard, and 50 cent Walmart paint.

So if any of you are watching crafting channels, or looking at my craptastic pictures, and wondering if this is something you can or should do, let me answer that for you now: yes and yes. I can’t promise any nerdy Hallmark moments, but I can tell you, emphatically, this is a rabbit hole you will enjoy falling into. I don’t presume to be an example to anyone, but in this case, I encourage any and all to be like me: suck. Suck hard. Suck a lot. Suck spectacularly.

Happy gaming. I should probably write the article Gnome Stew actually asked for now. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts below.