What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of GMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.

We’ve had so many fine suggestions in the Stew lately about how to apply templates to your game prep. DNA Phil wrote about his goals in this regard and Gnome-in-chief Martin Ralya has shared how he applies it to his Star Trek game.

But to be honest, I’m the game-prep fiend. I like planning out the little details – whether they come into play or not. It’s all about fleshing out the game world and the scenario. I don’t like leaving things to chance.

That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t also try to apply the advantages of templates to some aspect of my gaming prep. So as an exercise, I thought I would try to apply a template to an aspect of gaming prep that interests me the most, and see what I could come up with.

I decided I would see if templates could be used in the way I build gaming terrain for miniature combat. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that they could.

Templates don’t mean modular

I’ve constructed modular dungeon components before. Mostly, these are tiles and walls that can be assembled into any shape you desire. They are perfect for a dungeon crawl.

But a template application is somewhat different. This requires using interchangeable “set pieces” to a singular component. To me, the best analogy is is like set design in theater. The stage doesn’t change, just the dressing.

So, I got out my plaster and paints and created these components. The main piece is a “game board” with slots in the walls I can use to swap out the other components, such as stairs, doors, windows, and various furniture sets, such as a fireplace, an altar, a kitchen, an alcove, a balcony and a fountain.

I’ve also created other dressing components which aren’t tied to the slots, such as walls, beds, bookshelves, columns and tables.

Now, the beauty of these various pieces is I can insert these pieces into the four slots of my game board, which serves as the main floor. Really, at moment’s notice, I can create an encounter area. In less than five minutes, I created the following three encounter areas and snapped a picture of each:

Now, this template approach has advantages and disadvantages.

1. Speed. Even a modular dungeon takes time to assemble properly. But these go up very quickly.

2. Utility. Even with only four slots and a handful of pieces, I can combine them a great many ways. If you consider that stocking each combination with different monsters, then the variations increase.

3. Storage. A modular dungeon has an advantage here. By their nature all the tiles are smaller, the same size, and they can fit snuggly into storage, for either travel or retrieval. The “set pieces” are all different, so they take up more room.

4. Sameness. Despite the variety gained from the various combinations, there is a sameness to the template. It works fine for a standing structure, such as the various floors in a tower or fortress. But the “game board” doesn’t offer any surprise for exploration.

Ultimately, it’s use would depend on the type of group. Those for whom the challenge of a given encounter comes from the types of monsters and traps you use, then the shape of the landscape – the game board – matters little. Those that want to explore the twists and turns of a mad wizard’s dungeon, will be disappointed.

All in all, I think something like this – only with a sci-fi motif instead of a fantasy theme –  would be ideal for a setting such as Martin’s Star Trek game. This is like a set on a TV show. Re-arrange the pieces and the bridge can become Ten-Forward, a hallway with crew quarters or even the engine room.