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Community Spotlight: Steve Bissonnette on Building Terrain/Props

Visiting as a guest of the Festival Magic Montreal, I had the supreme pleasure of DMing for Steve Bissonnette‘s weekly players. The second the game was over, the table was quick to laud their Dungeon Master, who had been observing the game, and his amazing terrain-building skills.

Steve’s Wednesday night Adventurers League table has met every week for the last two years, a point of pride for Steve, adventuring their way through Storm King’s Thunder, the Yawning Portal, and now, halfway through Tomb of Annihilation. Once you see the level of immersion Steve brings to his players, it’s easy to understand why players are waiting in line to join his game!

Having studied fine arts, film, and pottery in college, Steve’s Dungeons & Dragons crafts feed his artistic side. However, Steve stresses that one doesn’t need loads of time, money, or honed skills to create terrain. In fact, Steve says he limits himself to approximately 1 hour for each prop.

His first D&D craft was Instructor Tulakh, a gem-eyed talking skull in Cloud Giant’s Bargain. Instructor Tulakh acts as a guide for the players, albeit a comically sarcastic one. With a Halloween skull from the dollar store and an hour of time, Steve created a stick puppet of Tulakh to hold up whenever roleplaying the berating instructor. The “mask” helped Steve get into character and use a fun voice, and his players had a blast. Since then, Steve creates mind-blowing set pieces for key moments in his campaign. (You can download his files for 3D-printing puzzle cubes here.)

For this Community Spotlight, Steve shared his tips for memorable crafts for your D&D campaign with limited time and crafting experience. (Players of Tomb of Annihilation BEWARE! The very bottom of this article shares Steve’s amazing terrain for the FINALE showdown of that adventure to inspire and delight your Dungeon Masters!)

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Key tools list:

  • EPS pink foam: some 1” sheets and 1 big 2” inch sheet. If you can find 2’ x 2’ ‘project panels’ at 1” thick, these are ideal.
  • A sharp utility knife and extra blades.
  • A cutting surface. An old kitchen cutting board is a good cheap options. Your best bet is a self-healing mat with a grid built in.
  • Hot glue gun.
  • Dollar store paints (5 x black, 5 x white, 2 of each primary, 1 silver) and a bunch of cheap quality brushes.
  • A steel ruler.
  • Start a scrap plastics bin (any small unique plastic shapes, beads, caps, mesh).

Goals when creating a piece:

  • I try and create key piece per module or chapter.
  • Try and make the rest as reusable as possible.
  • Look for shortcuts / using a cheap colour printer.
  • Go for playability over completeness (low walls / less obstruction).
  • Minimal paint does wonders (black bomb base + single color dry brush which anyone can do!).
  • Try and pass it on if you’re never gone to use it again. Gift your pieces to your FLGS, other groups you know, etc. I did this with my Storm King’s Thunder finale terrain.

Hacks and tips: 

  • For foam cutting, use a BBQ lighter and metal wire to “cut” foam.
  • Never use spray paint or glue on foam. It will melt
  • Go for impact over perfection.
  • Crumpled tin foil pressed into foam as a texture is very very quick 
  • For grids, cut in using utility knife and trace with pencil to deepen the lines before black bombing. (I personally find this step isn’t as useful as most pieces I make will be accompanied with a traditional mat grid underneath as reference.)
  • Overhangs should have basic triangular supports. Use your scraps.
  • When you’re done, “black bomb” (completely cover visible areas) with thinned down matte black acrylic paint.
  • Paint only what the players see.

Inspirations:

The Adventurers League Community Spotlight features members of our community accomplishing cool things and sharing their tips to make your AL experience equally cool. If you know someone who makes your AL community better, e-mail [email protected] to tell us why they should be featured in the next Community Spotlight.

TOMB OF ANNIHILATION SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!!

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Spoil yourself and be annihilated!

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Tomb of Annihilation finale (to be placed on a television screen displaying LAVA):

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Lysa Chen

Lysa Chen

Community Manager at D&D Adventurers League
Repping the Adventurers League on the East Coast! Jersey girl Lysa designs flowers by day and shapeshifts into a freelance writer and Dungeon Masters Guild Adept by the light of the moon. Her D&D portfolio, interviews, actual play appearances, and other creative pursuits can be found on www.lysachen.com.
Lysa Chen

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Author: Lysa Chen

Repping the Adventurers League on the East Coast! Jersey girl Lysa designs flowers by day and shapeshifts into a freelance writer and Dungeon Masters Guild Adept by the light of the moon. Her D&D portfolio, interviews, actual play appearances, and other creative pursuits can be found on www.lysachen.com.

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