Game Tokens for Dungeons and Dragons

When my son asked me to play Dungeons and Dragons, I was happy to oblige although, at the time, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for.  I had played a bit when a  teenager and had a sense of what happened.  But as I found when coaching a soccer team, being a dungeon master and sitting at the table are two entirely different things.  Our game play has evolved over time, as I found a balance between creating a world and providing a bit of a rail for them to follow.

Our party has 2 early teens and a pre-tween.  The order of the day tends to be (a) hack and slash, (b) accumulate XP, and (c) accumulate loot.  In that order.  There have been far more near death (or outright deaths) than I remember from my own game play.  A surprising number have come from one party member, inadvertently or purposefully, taking a whack at a comrade.

One thing I have struggled with in particular was how to provide them with the mental images they needed to imagine where they are.  We have played for the past 2 years without any board or play mat.  I would occasionally draw a bit of a map or diagram for them where they were (I like the Donjon random dungeon generator although I use PowerPoint too) and create a player’s map as well as my own.

I finally decided to try something a bit more tangible to help them visualize their combat.  The first thing was to put together a play mat.  This was easy after reading how others have done it.  I created a page full of hexagons in PowerPoint, printed off about 15 pages, and taped them together.  I then placed two large sheets of glass over the top so nearly the entire table is our game board.  The glass means I can mark directly on it with dry erase markers and erase it when we’ve finished.

We have been using a trio of metal game counters to represent the three party members but I was struck by this set of player tokens.  I hadn’t really thought about what, other than miniatures, others might be using for the game.  Of course, there are loads of ideas for creating small standees.  I decided to stick with flat tokens and see how they work.  It will be easy, now that I have them, to make them stand if necessary.

They’re easy to make in PowerPoint.  I created an empty circle shape (hold down your SHIFT key to make it round, and then you can right-click to edit its size).  Since PowerPoint 2007, you can add an image to a shape and it will conform to the shape (circle in this case) that you’ve made.

I did a web search for dnd 5e halfling and came up with my first image.  I right-clicked on the image in Google’s search results and selected copy image, switched over to PowerPoint, and went into the properties for the image.

In PowerPoint, choose the Fill setting, click on Picture, and then click on Clipboard to fill your circle with the image from your Web search.
In PowerPoint, choose the Fill setting, click on Picture, and then click on Clipboard to fill your circle with the image from your Web search.

If you select the FILL option, you can fill your circle with a picture.  Since you have one on your clipboard, click on FILL, then Picture or texture fill, and then the Clipboard button.  If you can see the circle, it will change to reflect your picture.  You can then duplicate the circle – I gave mine a nice thick edge line – and fill with additional images.  I made one for each of the NPCs that our party interacts with, and a large number of NPC combatants and monsters.

There’s a lot of cutting involved once you’ve printed them out but it’s manageable.  I used photo print paper because it was to hand and it’s thicker than normal paper.  Alternatively, you could print on cardstock or print on regular paper and stick it to cardstock.  And next time I’ll get the boys to do the cutting!

The downside of this – like the addition of any accessory or miniature to the game – is that it starts to suggest what the person or creature looks like rather than leaving it entirely to the imagination.  But in light of their game play, they may not be conjuring up much anyway!  If I find that they’re less creeped out when my description is spooky, I may retire the tokens but I doubt that will happen.  Now when they hack and slash their way across the map, at least we know where everyone is in case the Burning Hands go awry.

Halloween Bounty Hunter Costume

As our kids age out of Halloween costumes and trick or treat, the costuming seems to become more involved!  This year was initially going to be a medieval knight but pivoted in September to a Star Wars bounty hunter, no less than Jango Fett.  It’s not my first Star Wars costume, since I already have a dimunitive Jawa under my belt as well as a Death Star officer.

Jango Fett was more complicated, however, and posed a number of challenges, not least of which was the helmet.  In the end, I purchased an adult’s size Jango Fett helmet and his two pistols from Amazon.ca.  The rest of the outfit we made from EVA foam, duct tape, and a variety of adhesives!

Note:  this was made for a child – albeit one with a big head – so you will need to scale your duct tape to suit your size.

Gun Belt and Holsters

Jango Fett blaster holder. A toilet paper cardboard tube, coated in duct tape, with a shoelace to tie to the wearer's leg.
Jango Fett blaster holder. A toilet paper cardboard tube, coated in duct tape, with a shoelace to tie to the wearer’s leg.

These were perhaps the easiest.  Duck Tape-brand duct tape has a wide variety of colors.  I used brown tape for the gun belt and the holsters.  You can buy Jango Fett’s holsters online but the reviews were uniformly awful.  Considering how easy this is to make yourself, it seems a better – more reliable – option.

To fashion a belt, I cut a length of tape long enough to wrap around our son, plus a bit extra.  Then I cut a second length and placed the two strips, sticky sides facing each other, together.  This made a belt that I could then trim to suit.  I borrowed a belt buckle from another belt.

Each of Fett’s blasters are pretty narrow.  I used a cardboard toilet paper roll to act as the primary holder, and coated it with duct tape.  I taped a shoe lace on the inside of the holster, so that it can be tied to the wearer’s thigh.  The taped toilet paper roll is then connected by more tape to the belt, so that it hangs down properly.  Initially, I had a loop at the top so the belt could run through it, but the tubes kept slipping to the front and I ended up taping them in place.

Armor

I bought a 4 pack of EVA foam from our local Home Hardware.  I have bought the play squares from Walmart in the past and it was nice to start with dark gray and not have to worry about having to cover up a sunny color later.  In the end, one square of foam was plenty for all of the armor I made.

The armor pieces themselves were just pieces of EVA foam cut to size and covered with duct tape.  They consisted of:

  • two shoulder pieces, curved;
  • the chest pieces, cut to match Jango Fett’s
  • two thigh pieces (velcroed to the wearer’s trousers)
  • two calf pieces (velcro straps taped to the back of the foam)

The flat pieces on the chest were straightforward.  Cut, tape over, and hot glue or shoe clue to the vest.  The vest was made from black and white duct tape.  I cut 30″ lengths of black tape, and lay each one facing sticky side up.  I overlapped each of these pieces slightly, so that they formed a sheet of strips.  Once this sheet was about 15″ deep, I started placing strips sticky side down, so that the sheet was faced front and back.

Jango fett armor glued onto duct tape vest, which has arm holes cut and shaped foam on shoulders.
Jango fett armor glued onto duct tape vest, which has arm holes cut and shaped foam on shoulders.

I wrapped the sheet around my son, marking where the should holes should go.  These were U-shaped cuts from the top.  The shoulder straps would be made from shaped pieces of foam.  Once you have the arm holes cut, put tape from the front to back to make a shoulder strap.  I started from inside to inside, and then put a piece over that – sticky sides together – that connected to the outside of the sheet.  Taping the shoulder pieces onto those shoulder straps was straightforward then.

To make it easy to put on and take off at school, the front has velcro tabs.  The bottom piece of chest armor was glued on OVER this opening.  I then slit the foam with a sharp knife so that, when it’s on, it looks almost whole.

The shaped armor had me stumped for a bit.  I looked at a lot of online videos about how to do shaped foam armor.  In the end, I decided to just notch the back of the foam.  With that gap, I could then pull the two sides back, and glue them in place.

Use an Xacto knife or box cutter to cut a V-shaped notch in the back of the foam.
Use an Xacto knife or box cutter to cut a V-shaped notch in the back of the foam.

Once you have the glue in the notch – I found shoe repair glue worked best on this – put a couple of rubber bands around the foam to hold it in place.  Once it’s dried, you can then coat it in duct tape.

The end of a piece of curved armor after it has been glued and covered in duct tape.
The end of a piece of curved armor after it has been glued and covered in duct tape.

Wrist Armor and Rockets

Jango Fett’s wrist rockets were something I wanted to attempt but wasn’t really sure how.  I knew that I didn’t want foam armor, like the leg pieces, that merely had velcro on them.  From a previous Halloween, I knew these could slip.  In this case, I decided to use a pair of old socks.  I cut them off near the arch, and cut a thumb hole in the heel.  Then I could hot glue pieces of flat armor – narrow near the wrist and wider near the elbow – onto each sock.

An old sock becomes a fingerless glove and armor is glued on.
An old sock becomes a fingerless glove and armor is glued on.

Even in these days of zero tolerance, he was able to wear the dart wrist gloves to school.  I made them so they could be separated though.  The wrist rocket or dart consisted of two pieces of EVA foam, covered separately in duct tape, and glued together.  The top piece was smaller.  I used a cordless drill to drill a hole about halfway into the top piece from the end.  I stuck an old piece of metal (in my case, from a bird feeder roost) in the hole.  You could glue it but I left it dry, in case I needed to pull it out.

eva-foam-edgingThe dart tip is two pieces of EVA foam edging (you know, those little edge bits that stick out to enable the foam squares to be connected).  I cut two triangles and glued them together.  Then I shaped the resulting piece into a cone, and covered that with duct tape.  I then used the same drill bit as before and drilled a hole in the cone, and then glued it on the metal rod.

The Jet Pack

The iconic jet pack was probably the most involved part and yet, in the end, the easiest to assemble.  It consists of 3 Pringle’s-style potato chip canisters, a small cardboard box, a load of blue and silver duct tape, and a coat hanger.

I taped the two outside potato chip tubes first, with the hole open at the top.  They were taped directly onto the small cardboard box in the middle.  In my case, the width of the box + the two chip containers was the width of my son’s back.  The box was just over half as deep as the chip containers, so the chip tubes protruded.

Use your third potato chip can and cut a half circle in the box end. Then cut a rectangle out of the top. Put a cardboard brace inside the box to support the third tube.
Use your third potato chip can and cut a half circle in the box end. Then cut a rectangle out of the top. Put a cardboard brace inside the box to support the third tube.

Using the third can’s bottom as a measurement, I traced an arc on the top of the box and cut out a semi-circle.  It’s not very deep – it’s not as deep as half the chip can – and is just enough so that it sticks out of the box.  Then I removed a rectangle from the top.  The chip can sat nicely in there and I used some of the cardboard that I’d just removed to create a small support inside so that it wouldn’t sink at one end!

After a lot more duct tape, I added cones to the top of the tubes (cut a semi-circle of cardstock, tape it into a cone shape, and cover it in more duct tape).  The bottom rocket cones were just like the top, but I cut the points off.  A piece of duct tape inside the cone attached it to the bottom of the side chip cans.

Jango Fett jet pack from the outside. Blue duct tape makes nice highlights on the silver. I used a bit of the brown (belt) duct tape as an edging at the top.
Jango Fett jet pack from the outside. Blue duct tape makes nice highlights on the silver. I used a bit of the brown (belt) duct tape as an edging at the top.

I’d originally considered making the rockets removable.  If I were to do that, I would cut foam circles to fit inside the top of the potato chip cans.  Then I’d cut a circle inside those circles, to enable a wooden dowel or something similar to slide in.  Once the foam circles were glued into the chip cans, the dowel would be secure, but could slide up and down.  Then it would just be a matter of adding a rocket tip to the dowel.

One thing I didn’t see when looking at how other people were creating their (far more elaborate and realistic looking) jet packs was how to attach it to the wearer’s back.  Jango Fett doesn’t appear to have shoulder straps, and I wasn’t interested in replicating my son’s suggestion, which is that it was magnetically attached to his back armor!

In my case, I cut two very small holes in the back of the cardboard box.  I then bent a coat hanger so that it had a large loop, and two bent ends.  One each went into the two holes on the back.  The loop could then be slid into the back of the chest armor vest (or a winter coat or whatever) by anyone.  By making the loop as large and spade-like as possible, it meant the jet pack wouldn’t twist around.

Wire coat hanger to make putting on and taking off the jet pack as easy as possible.
Wire coat hanger to make putting on and taking off the jet pack as easy as possible.

I think we may be on the hook for a medieval knight next year, so I’m keeping the 3 remaining squares of foam around to practice making some helmets.  And I’ll be confiscating our son’s medieval armor books so that I don’t end up having to make some Renaissance helmet that is really fancy.

DIY Hardwood Hiking Staff

Our family walks often, usually in the woods near our house or north of our town.  I had been thinking for some time that it would be nice to have a hiking staff but am not a fan of newfangled hiking gear.  In fact, I was not interested in any metal poles but wanted something made of wood.  Hardwood preferably, so it could take a bit of abuse.  Here’s how I put together my own.

The Wood and Handle

I shopped for wooden hiking poles but found either very expensive ones or ones that I wasn’t sure were hardwood.  In the end, I selected an ash wood handle used for floor brooms and mops.  At 5 feet long and C$10, it fit my requirements for materials and price.  I liked the metal ferrule at the end – that normally screws in to a mop or broom – so that I wouldn’t have to cap the end of the pole that strikes the ground.

Now that I had the handle, I wanted to have a handle to grip at the top.  The handle was nicely varnished so I could have gone without.  However, I thought it would be useful to have the handle double as a utility rope, so I bought 50 feet of paracord for about $10.  Now, if I need it, I have some rope available whenever I go for a hike.

Make the Hiking Staff

The first step was to lop off the end of the ferrule.  You could leave it but I didn’t think it was very sightly so I sawed it off.  However, I kept the metal that rounded the end of the pole so as to protect it from being bashed.

hiking-staff-metal-end-after-ferrule-cut-off

You can see scuffing around the end as the pole has been used now (on a 6 kilometer hike in the fall).  I used a standard hacksaw to saw through the metal end.

The handle required a bit more planning and I’m not sure I have it entirely sorted out.  I drilled a hole in the handle about 8 inches from the top, the width of the hole being just wide enough for the paracord to go through.  I then made a loop for a handle, tied with a bowline, and passed the rest of the cord through the handle.

hiking-staff-paracord-handle

I then wrapped the 50 feet of paracord up to the top, then back down below the hole, about 6 inches, and back up to the top again.  I tied it off in a knot at the top.  I’d considered trying to thread the end under the top but found it more fiddly than I cared to mess with.

This held together well.  There was some twisting in the cord handle as we walked (I made 3, one for me and each of the boys) so I am thinking of unwinding them and putting something underneath to stop the cord turning.  Or I may leave it alone since it was probably more to do with the cord not being pulled tightly enough as it was wrapped.  Also, the first one we did was wrapped too closely to the top, so the cord loop came off; I would leave a quarter inch or so of wood at the top showing if I were to rewrap the cord.

Create Hurdles

We are migrating from a family of Irish dancers to ones with a broader set of pursuits.  Our eldest is a runner and is adding hurdles to the track events she wants to participate in.  Unfortunately, her school does not have any hurdles for her to practice on.  A small challenge.

She’s pretty resourceful and found something approximately the right size to try clearing but it’s really not the same.  There are a bunch of simple hurdle designs on the Web, built using PVC.  Some of them are for strength training, and aren’t meant to tip over as they do for runners.  In the end, I cobbled together my own design which created 28″ high hurdles while minimizing the parts I would need.

You can build one 28″ tall hurdle using a single 3/4″ PVC pipe 10 feet long.  This will set you back about $10.  You will also need 4 3/4″ PVC round corners, for the two legs and the top rail.  If you don’t already have one, pick up a hacksaw.

There are a variety of heights for hurdles.  These are the smallest.  There are also a variety of widths, ranging from 41″ to 44″ from what I can tell.  This hurdle is narrower than that, in order to keep to one piece of pipe.  To construct this one, I cut 5 lengths:

  • two feet:  17″ each
  • one cross bar:  34″
  • two legs:  26″ each
5 piece hurdle design using 3/4" PVC pipe
5 piece hurdle design using 3/4″ PVC pipe

The round corners are 1″ deep so, when you press the legs into the corners, the top and bottom surface adds 2″, bringing you to 28″ on the top.  Press the pipe ends into the appropriate corner.  You just need to get them started, then hold onto the corner and press the exposed pipe end against the floor to firmly seat it.  No glue required.  Be sure to twist the top corners perpendicular to the bottom, so that the cross bar connects properly between the two legs.

These will stand on their own but if you are using them on grass, they can be tippy.  I bought a couple of pipe caps (in a box at Lowe’s on the same shelf as the round corners) and will fill the two feet pipes with sand and then place caps on them.  You could even block up the legs first, to ensure the sand doesn’t shift if the hurdles are tipped.

If she continues to do hurdles, the height will increase.  At that point, I will pull the top two corners off and get rid of them and the cross piece.  In their place, I will buy a 1″ pipe (or a size that will slide over the 3/4″ pipe) and make two short, 12″ leg caps to connect to a new, larger cross piece.  I will drill 4 sets of holes in each of the leg caps and one in the current 3/4″ legs, at the top, so that the new leg caps + cross bar can be raised and lowered as necessary.  That should cover all possible hurdling levels for women in high school.

Productivity, Interruptions, and Mark Twain

One of my favorite books is Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. It is a riot of funny writing and interesting perspectives on Europe and travel. Twain is a favorite author of mine and I have acquired a number of books of his other writings, letters and that sort of thing. I was reading some today and laughed to see his writings on when his creativity is interrupted. Talk about learning from a maker!

The piece is a part of Life as I Find It, a collection edited by Charles Neider.  Twain discusses the number of letters he receives and how they pile up, and distract him from his own work:

They are letters of all sorts and descriptions, and they treat of everything.  I generally read them at breakfast, and right often they kill a day’s work by diverting my thoughts and fancies into some new channel, thus breaking up and making confusion of the programme of scripbbling I had arranged for my work hours.  After breakfast I clear for action, and for an hour try hard to write; bu there is no getting back into the old train of thought after such an interruption . . .

One of Mankind’s Bores

This struck home because it is the same issue so many people have with e-mail and that many e-mail philosophies counsel against:  skip your e-mail first thing in the morning (like Simplehuman, 4 Hour Work Week).  I try to skip my e-mail first thing in the morning because, like Twain, I find it too often knocks me off my scheduled list of tasks for the day as well as becoming a sinkhole, where my morning disappears as I triage and respond to what are usually non-critical messages.  By waiting, I have a better perspective on what is truly critical.  And the reality is that, in my case, very few e-mails are that critical.

What about the really important ones?  Those are usually telephone calls.