The Epic Game Board

Everybody has to play on a table in todays D&D.  What do you play on?

If you’re still using that ugly beige matt, you might want to pay attention.

This is my Home Board*, I call it that for two reasons.

First, the specs.  At 24″ x 36″ it nearly fills my kitchen table, leaving only enough room for my DM stuff and the initiative tracker.  It sports a sleek black frame, to hold in the dice, and a plexiglass top so it won’t crack and is wet or dry erase safe.  A thin 1″ grid drawn on the bottom of the plexiglass keeps order.   Under that, rests a fine layer of roadside sediment, glued in place, sealed, and spray painted a nice generic grey.  The floating glass adds a nice shadow effect to all the dice and minis, as you can see.

Second reason, I made a Travel Board.  Here’s how I did it, for about $10.

The first thing you have to do is scour the thrift stores and hope for a good find.  You’re literally treasure hunting here.  What you’re looking for depends on your use.  If its a home board you need then you want three things.  A frame holds the dice in, size according to your needs, and get plexiglass if possible.  I didn’t even think about the glass at first, and it lasted for a year plus.  All it took was one player to lean on it and crack, I saw the error of my ways.  You can buy plexiglass at Home Depot, Lowes, etc… but it’ll cost you about $10 on its own.

As I said before, I was looking for a Travel Board, so I was looking for something a little smaller.  I scored on my first stop, and got this acrylic box frame for $5.  The bonus is the top easily comes off so I can switch grids, place dungeon tiles or maps underneath, and draw in zones and such on top.  It also makes a nice sturdy surface for props and minis.  The good news is they sell all sorts of these things at Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, and both quite often have half-off sales.

Next comes the tedious part, drawing in the grid. There are two ways to do this.  Drawing it on the glass itself, or on something else, in which case you’re just framing a picture of a grid.  If you draw it on the glass itself, you’ll have a hard time placing maps underneath and lining it all up.  If you’re just framing a picture of a grid, it’s not going to look as cool as the alternative, but it’ll be more versatile.

Either way you do it, you want to use a Metallic Silver Sharpie to do it, trust me.  It looks awesome (it’s shiny), it stands out against all the dark colors used in Dungeon Tiles, and watercolor paints run off it like it was a crayon.  I got mine at Wal-Mart.

The easiest first, drawing a picture of a 1″ grid.  If you’re handy with a ruler, this isn’t too tough.  Most pictures are white on the back, so you’ll probably be able to use whatever came with your new frame.  If not, poster board is cheap, or… they make this stuff called Ghost Line (their link is down, try Kmart), it’s poster board with a very faint grid pre-drawn on it, I got mine at Wal-Mart for about $3.  With this, all you have to do is align your ruler and trace.

This is a lot easier to do if you have a yardstick, the wooden ones are only about $1 at craft stores.  Even if you’re using the Ghost Line, start by making little dots at every inch around the border of your paper.  Make sure you marks are level across the page (this is where Ghost Line really helps), line up your yardstick and trace, slowly for a thicker line, faster for thinner.

Now, you’ll want to paint it.  Here’s where you get creative too.  I ended up making two sheets with the grid on it, made one a nice light green for outdoors stuff, and the other a dark grey for caverns and night usage.  I can switch out the two sheets depending on the adventures lighting!

Use watercolor, you don’t want to cover that beautiful grid.  As I said before, the water-color magically runs off the Silver Sharpie.  It’s really up to you, but here are some fun techniques I used on mine.  On the green board, I scratched it while still wet, lightly with a fork, a brush, various edges, to simulate grass.  On the dark one, I sprinkled water droplets of the paint, either by flicking or dropping from a straw, to make round dots that simulate rocks.

So there it is, but if you want to get really creative, and get a 3D board, like my home board, you need to tweak a few of these steps.

Making a 3D Board

For starters, using the same tedious method above, draw you’re grid on the bottom of your glass.  You don’t want to put the Sharpie through the rigors of D&D.

You’ll need some cardboard to fit your frame and about 4 bottles of white (Elmer’s) glue.  I got mine at the dollar store.  Then, find some sand, dirt, wood chips, whatever you want your board to look like.  I used sediment from a curbside because it was full of tiny pebbles.

Coat your cardboard in the glue, then sprinkle it with your terrain from at least 12″ up so it plops into the glue. Cover it completely, then lightly tap off the excess.  Repeat the process on the areas that need it first, then the rest of the board again, but this time don’t shake it off.  Leave it for a few hours at least before shaking it off a final time.  It should look decent enough now for use, but if you’re concerned about it, you can quickly seal it with either more glue at a 1/2 water ratio, or a spray finishing coat.  I actually spray painted mine a nice generic flat grey, to make it lighter and add definition.  I suppose you could go all out with washes and dry brushes and such, but that’s a later post.

Place your frame and you’re set.

*This is truly my home board, notice the silver lines?

How do you like it?  What do you think?  What do you use?


About j0nny_5

Mid-thirties and work a full-time job in beautiful northern Colorado. In my free time I play D&D, video games, and walk my two beautiful Bouvier des Flandres.
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9 Responses to The Epic Game Board

  1. boccobsblog says:

    This is amazing. You could change the 3D terrain to fit the adventure site. Sand for beach or elemental plane of water. Leaves for the forrest. etc.

    Great post, great site.

    • j0nny5 says:

      Totally. I search for cheap frames nearly everytime I’m in a thrift shop now. Once you get the hang of it, they get made pretty quick, and make great Christmas gifts for your players.

  2. 4649matt says:

    Quite often I am playing on the road.
    How well does your travel board actually travel?
    Many of the cool crafts I have seen for RPGs are great for a home game,
    but seem untenable when they have to be ported about, especially if you like to play it by ear.

    • j0nny_5 says:

      Thanks for reading! My travel board actually travels quite well. I leave it in my car most of the time, use it every week for Encounters, sometimes at my home game if I’m using a map. I throw stuff on it and generally treat it like a cheap toy.

      The acrylic frame doesn’t have smooth corners, there’s a small gap where the sides should meet. One of these corners caught on something and cracked that edge. Over time the whole edge has come off, but I truthfully like it better now. It created a slot I can slide maps into. Tape would have prevented this though.

      The board works great in play. I’ve set it on an ottoman for an impromptu session and it lasted fine for the 4 hours. I’ve used it on the lawn on a nice day. It’s nicely weighted; not awkward to carry, and won’t blow in the wind.

  3. j0nny_5 says:

    @4649matt I think you jinxed me. It cracked when I threw it in the car for Encounters this week. No worries, it’s cheap.

  4. jonwaynew says:

    I think that I will definitely have to try this out. Dry-erase boards with grids cost a couple of pretty pennies and I love the idea of differing landscapes.

    I’m thinking that this will be performed in stages.
    1. buy the plexiglass and draw the grid on it so I can use it from the get-go.
    2. Buy some poster-board and paint landscape colors on it. (I like the natural elements idea: just worried about dirt or sand scratching the plexiglass
    3. Purchase a frame to protect it for transportation purposes.
    4. It has to have an open back so that I can just place it over my landscapes.

    • j0nny_5 says:

      You won’t regret this board. I’ve found my two boards, nature and stone, cover just about everything I need. The instructions on the original Epic Game Board post, break down a simple nature and stone with simple paints, those two are my travel boards and work perfectly, front to back, with a document protector from Hobby Lobby. This might be exactly what you’re looking for if you have landscape maps to use.

      Keep an eye out at thrift shops for a frame with the right proportions and glass/plexiglass intact. Saves a bit of time and money.

      I’ll tell you, I’ve had my stone board for nearly four years now and I don’t notice any scratches. No players have ever noticed it, if they’re there.

      Lastly, make sure you draw the grid on the BACK of the plexiglass/glass. It will come off with glass cleaner and time if you don’t.

      • jonwaynew says:

        So, I pretty much finished. Can’t say I’m super happy with the result, but I ended up with a 20×30″ clear plastic board. Framed it on three sides. Used screws to keep them attached and applied little rubber stoppers on the bottoms so that the table wouldn’t get scratched. I used round nuts to top off the other end of the bolts sticking out of the top.

        Now, why did I only frame three sides? Glad you asked. I MADE TWO!! Put them together and you have a double sized board. (worked great when I had a party split up and ran 2 encounters at the same time)

        I attached a piece of cardboard underneath them both so now they both perform doubly as large folders (I carry paperwork, terrain boards, etc)
        To make them even better I attached a sturdy picture hanger hook (with a ring) on both ends of the boards and carry them both like a giant portfolio using a strap with carabiners hooked on the ends.

      • j0nny_5 says:

        Wow! It sounds awesome. I love the innovation. If you’d like, email me some pics and I’ll put them up on this page along with your name as a reference to others for how easy, fun, and epic these boards truly are.

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