Craft Projects, DMing

Adventures in Chipboard: Maps & Props

When I started DMing professionally, I decided that if I was to eventually going to make it work as a job then it was going to have to pay for itself. And that meant no more using my primary income for game aids or printing large maps, and no single-use miniatures or terrain.

I started out with a 25×30″ pad of 1″ grid paper and a set of 20 card stands to use for paper miniatures, and by the time I ran my first adventure I found myself scrounging for cereal boxes and toilet paper rolls to tape together three wagons for a caravan ambush encounter. The players really responded to the wagons I’d made, and that got my gears turning.

It Began With the Waaaghon

While I was writing ‘Rumble on Planet Dethtrak’ I thought while looking for second-hand Warhammer 40K vehicles, “wouldn’t it be cool if I asked the players to scavenge car parts out of a junkyard to determine the stats for their racer?” Unable to find anything within my meager budget, it was my wife a few days later who first said “why don’t you have them physically make their car out of craft supplies?”

So that became the plan, and as a part of that I needed to make the enemy death car ahead of time using those same supplies. So I loaded up on things from the recycle bin, grabbed some straws, pens, and masking tape, and went to town designing the Waaaghon (which began its life as a scaled down version of Sir Skofi’s Trukk design):

Credit: Design inspired by Sir Skofis’s Workshop |

I left some tape and original print showing to give it that junkyard vibe, and truth be told I fell in love with it immediately.

And Then the Battlekroozer

During that time I also wrote two scenes that took place in the translocator room of an Ork battlekroozer, but found that on a conventional grid-based map it was a little hard to understand the elevation changes and the cover provided by the stairs (imagine someone lobbing a grenade from the top level, and you’ll see what I mean). I had a couple of extra days and more than a few extra cereal boxes, so I decided to try my hand at my very first chipboard map:

Credit: Paper miniatures by rpgtoons & r-n-w |

I chose a 3/4 cutaway for visibility and the response to both was overwhelmingly positive.

What Came Next

After that I began experimenting more with different building techniques, and resolved to have at least one 3D map encounter per adventure. Below are some screenshots from the conception and early stages of a prototype for “Belle of the Bloodmoon” that didn’t make it to the final cut.

What did end up in the final version of that adventure was a boutique for fiends, affectionately named “Hell’s Belles”:

I’m still in the process of discovering where this is going, but one bit of feedback that I really took to heart and would share with any other prospective DM’s is this:

Don’t feel like you need to have professionally made maps and terrain all the time, especially if those aren’t your strong skills. Whatever you do, if you do it your own way it will come across as authentic and people will see that and respond to it.

Craft Projects

Making a Card Spellbook

After several years solely occupying the DM seat, I finally got the chance to play D&D 5e as a player! My last D&D character was predominantly a melee fighter, so I decided this time I wanted to try my hand at playing a warlock. After coming to that conclusion, the next step was obvious: I needed a bitching spellbook!

Some of you may remember that back in the early 2000’s there was a trading card game called “Zatch Bell! The Card Battle”. What made that game unique was that it wasn’t played by drawing from a deck, but was instead played out of spellbooks (miniature, 1×1 tcg card binders). Back then I actually used one of those books to hold spells for my then paladin/druid. I found it mixed in with my old RPG things, but it was a little beat up and stained and I just generally wanted to make it look a little nicer — something more appropriate for a warlock’s book of shadows.

I started by carefully removing the pages and backing material from the spine. I was prepared to need an X-ACTO knife, but I was able to peel it apart with my fingers fairly easily with minimal damage to the thin plastic film.

Truth be told, I actually had a few more spellbooks still new in their packaging. Knowing that, I decided to finish this one up on the spot using spare craft materials as a proof of concept.

The next step was to pick out materials for the inside and outside cover. I decided on a scrap of dark brown leather for the exterior and a parchment-pattern cardstock for the interior. For the leather I traced the outside edge of the cover, added 1/2 inch all around, and cut the corners at a 45 degree angle so they wouldn’t overlap when folded over.

For the inside cover I wanted to make sure I got straight, clean edges, so instead of tracing I measured the cover with a ruler and cut a piece of cardstock one millimeter smaller all around. I marked and carefully added the initial folds by hand to line up with the cardboard base, and then used a leather burnishing tool as a makeshift bone folder to achieve really clean, uniform creases.

Normally in bookbinding you would glue the exterior material in place first and then glue the end paper on top. However, the leather I used was actually too heavyweight for something this size and the bulk from folding it over would have kept the cardstock from laying nicely. Because of that, I decided to use a hot glue gun to glue in the interior paper first, and then to glue the exterior leather on top of it.

I completed the look of my spellbook by gluing the pages back into the spine and adding some decorative metal embellishments intended for wood boxes.

And that’s it!

If I were to make a version 2.0, I would probably ditch the cardboard cover entirely and make a cover from scratch using chipboard panels and lighter weight leather. With a lighter leather you could also add ridges and other decorative elements more typical for books, and afterwards you could also choose to add things like a ribbon bookmark or bookplate.

Want to make your own? Spellbooks like the one I used as a base are still relatively easy to find on eBay by searching “zatch bell spell book”. If you do decide to make one, I’d love to see it! Send me your pictures at and I’ll share them in a follow-up!