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Tabletop Props and Set Pieces

Discover the secrets of crafting your own table-top game props and miniature set pieces using cardboard, paper, foam packaging material, modeling clay, sand, gravel and glue.

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DIY - Tabletop Props and Set Pieces

Chaos Realms - Finished Set Piece
Follow along as we build various miniatures and set pieces for the Chaos Realms table-top role playing game. Using little more than cardboard, modeling clay, foam, random parts from models found at your nearest hobby/crafts store, along with random debris found in and around your home, office, or local hobby store, we will build props and set pieces that can be used for any modern, science fiction or post-apocalyptic table-top game.

If you are a seasoned game master looking to spruce up your games, or an amateur game designer looking to build your own set pieces for tabletop role-playing games...look no further. These game-design tutorials will guide you through the creative process of turning random pieces of cardboard, junk, lots of glue, every day items and layers upon layers of paint into fantastic miniature set pieces.

As an additional bonus, I offer tips and strategies on what types of things to be on the lookout for when collecting bits and pieces to add to your set piece; from sand and gravel, washers, wires and toothpicks, to small twigs and sticks. Your imagination is the limit.

Additional Supplies

For this project you will need the following construction materials and supplies. Home Depot and other supply stores offers 1/8in x 2ft x 4ft hardboard and 2ft x 2ft insulation sheeting (foamular), which can be easily cut down to create bases for our props. In addition to these supplies, you will need jars of various colored sand, gravel, small rocks, tree bark, twigs, miniature trees, bushes and grass (Scene-A-Rama offers a variety of deciduous and conifer trees, flowers and a handy Bushes/Foliage/Grasses Kit).

Other materials that I find useful in building dioramas and miniature set pieces include toilet paper and facial tissue (look for tissue without designs or textures pressed into them), modeling clay, cardboard boxes, foam packaging boards, and old newspapers.

From the garage, you might find various washers, fuses, connectors, wires and other materials...which make excellent props for science fiction and post apocalyptic scenes. Inside old or broken electronic devices you may find many useful components that can be used as props. These may prove useful in creating buildings, mounds of debris, junk piles, blast craters and small hills.

Putting It All Together

img Begin by marking out the basic layout of your diorama on the foamular boards, or hardboard. Be sure to include walls, junk piles, sidewalks, roads and other obstacles in your sketch. Be sure to press firmly into the foamboard when outlining the sidewalks, floor tiles and other features, as this will aid in the painting portion of this project and create realistic cracks or edges.

Build up any areas, such as hills and junk piles by adding layers of crumpled newspaper or facial tissue (covered in school glue). Glue down any rocks, wood, debris and other objects with super glue. Tissue can be added in layers by liberally applying a mixture of glue and water to each layer of facial tissue. Be sure to tear the edges of the facial tissue to remove any solid edges. Add any additional debris before continuing.

I use 1/2 inch packing foam for the walls of the buildings, but cardboard and hardboard can also be used for this step. Let the materials you have available guide the design process. Don't forget to add a few windows and doors to your urban ruins.

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Once all of the pieces have been set into place and all of the glue has dried (this may take up to two days), give the entire piece a coat of black base paint. I prefer a flat black acrylic paint, but any shade of black will work for this stage. Adding a base layer of black, gives the entire diorama a consistent color. Do not use spray paint on foam as the paint will destroy the foam, leaving your entire piece in ruins.

When applying color, start with the bottom-most layer and work your way up. It is better to start with darker colors and then lighten up with each consecutive layer, adding highlights on the final layer. For outdoors, start with a dark brown and then add layers of lighter tans, burnt amber and sepia. For indoors, use grays and tans. Apply green anywhere there will be layers of grass, flowers and bushes.

Add the uppermost layer, such as sand, grass, bushes and flowers. For walls, blood stains and graffiti can be added for a nice finishing touch. Newspaper can be shredded and added as a layer of debris, along with extra layers of foliage, rocks, grass, sand and gravel.

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Johnathan Nicolosi - 15 Oct 2017