Scratchbuilding Gaming Terrain

Why would a guy who has dozens of silicone molds and has spent the last two years learning a lot about 3D printing decide to try out his hand at building terrain, particularly modular dungeons and buildings, from scratch?

The easiest answer is that I’m a hobby gadfly who is always hopping around from project to project. But I’ve actually been putting this off for about a month or more, just to make sure it wasn’t my being drawn to a shiny object that I found on the metaphorical ground of my Facebook feed. After a lot of pondering, I realized there were three reasons why I thought it might not only be fun, but have some practical value as well.

First, it’s fast. One of the most important things to realize about 3D printing is that it is slooooooowwww. To even create a small, basic modular dungeon layout will take you a month. That’s assuming the filament doesn’t start giving you problems, or the printer, or whatever else. You’re getting a detailed, durable product in the long run that can last practically forever, but it will take you a while to get there. In the meantime, you’ll be wanting to print all sorts of other things, but you’ve tied up the printer with the first project. By comparison, scratchbuilding terrain goes fairly quickly, although you’re sacrificing detail (more on this later). In an evening I can cut out the floor tiles of a 20″ by 20″ surface that would take me hours and hours of printing.

Second, it’s cheap. I’m using a system called “Terraino” developed by GameGearMaster. The core material is the styrofoam found in foamcore sheets purchased from Dollar Tree. At a dollar a pop, you’re not going to be melting your way through $20 rolls of filament. Now I’m not financially strapped these days, a blessing I’m very thankful for, but I am trying to work down some debt, so a cheap hobby makes a lot more sense than an expensive one these days.

Third, it engages the creator in me. Recently I told someone that I had made something on the 3D printer. The person said (someone sarcastically), “you mean you hit and button and a machine made something for you.”

Which wasn’t cool, but also wasn’t really wrong. Part of my interest in 3D printing was my capacity to make things while doing other things, like sleeping, working, and raising children. But it wasn’t really scratching the growing itch of wanting to make something myself. I get an emotional sense of accomplishment in the process, and it’s been fed a steady diet of non-engagement. Scratchbuilding gets me using my hands, my brain, and the artistic spirit that I think dwells within (if that sounds a little new-ageish, deal with it).

So I’m trying something new. Worse case scenario, I have a terrain set I can gift to someone else for which I spent about five dollars. Best case, a new hobby that gives me things I can fold into my other hobby of roleplaying games.

Starting supplies

Stay tuned, and comments always welcome.

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