Airborne Minis Tips

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0310

A Brief Word From Johnn

Most Important Session?

In an RPG blog entry about the Burning Wheel RPG, I read this:

The most important session of your game is the character burning session. The players (GM included in that) have to — have to — create their characters together as a group. Doing chargen as a group is really nice in other games, but it’s essential in Burning Wheel.

I don’t play Burning Wheel (yet) so I don’t know if this is true, but it made me think of the RPGs I do play and ask:

What is the most important session? One could argue that it’s always the next session–gotta keep on gamin’. But, I wonder if there is a certain type or kind of session that is more important than any other. The first, the last, PC creation and party formation, the campaign starter, the villain killer?

What do you think?

Have a game-full week!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Airborne Minis Tips

Last week I put are request in my Brief Word section for ways to represent flying or climbing minis on battlemats. Following is a surprising number of methods you smart folks wrote in with. Hopefully, if you use minis, you find a method below that works for you.

First, here is my initial request:

Bottle Caps & D&D Minis?

I noticed recently that the standard medium-sized D&D minis have round bases that fit perfectly within a beer bottle cap (ahem). One of the challenges I’d like solved is three-dimensional representation when we use battlemats. We currently put minis on a d6 to indicate they’re airborne. However, the d6 takes up the ground space on the battlemat, so it’s not optimal.

I’m wondering how I can use this most-amazing-discovery- since-the-loofah to improve use of D&D minis? I thought of gluing a dowel to the cap and you could just put the mini inside the cap to get it up in the air. But, how do you stabilize that?

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Coffee Stir Sticks

From Aaron Chesny

Use 2 bottle caps: one for the airborne mini and one for the ground mini. Then go to Starbucks and get yourself a mocha. (Useful for late night game session too.) While you’re there, pick up a handful coffee stirring sticks–the wood ones. Then, super-glue a couple of them to the outside of each bottle cap. See attached drawing.

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Use Dice Boxes

From Rasmus Nord Jørgensen

Thanks for a great e-zine. One solution to the airborne minis problem is to use the transparent plastic cases that dice-sets are often sold in. A human sized mini can usually stand inside the case, and another one can stand on top of it. Doesn’t work with huge barbarians with greataxes lifted high above their heads though.

[Johnn: here’s an example box of the kind Rasmus mentions: ]
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Use A Strip Of Sheet Metal

From Jason Lord

To simulate airborne characters on a battlemat while still leaving the space below free try this. Get a piece of thin sheet metal from your local hardware store about 1″ X 6″. Mark out 1″ at each end and bend the metal so you have a kind of elongated U shape. Turn it endwise so that one end is on the battlemat and the other supports the mini 4″ above, and then you can still put a standard size mini in between.

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Craft A Magnetic Axel Stilt

From Mike Simon

Here’s an idea.

What you’ll need:

  • Two bottle caps
  • A small dowel or plastic rod
  • Craft magnet sheet (Magnet Valley)
  • A square plastic dice or card container
  • A rubber eraser, dry sponge, or something you can poke a dowel in
  • Model casting resin (Alumilite – Mold Making & Casting Resins)
  • A small loop of Scotch Tape
  • Krazy glue

First, cut the magnet into two circles the same size as the base of your minis. Then determine which sides of the magnets stick together. (This will be important for later.)

Second, pour resin into one of the bottle caps and place it carefully in the dice container.

Push the dowel into the eraser and use it to suspend the dowel in the center of the liquid resin in the bottle cap at the bottom of the dice container.

Wait until the resin hardens.

Pull the eraser up and remove it from the end of the dowel.

Remove the hardened resin disc from the bottle cap.

Fill the second cap with resin.

Tape the first resin disc with the dowel to the eraser.

Suspend the eraser/disc/dowel over the center of the liquid.

When the second disc of resin hardens, remove it from the bottle cap and you’ll now have an “axle”.

Now, go back to your magnets that are sticking to one another and Krazy Glue one side to one of the ends of your axel.

When it dries, put some glue on the other side of your magnetic discs (that are still stuck together) and then place your mini on the top.

Let it dry. Once dry, you should be able to pull the mini and the base apart.  This will leave a thin magnetic base on your mini that will attach and stick to your magnetic axel stilt.

Paint the base as you like, or use a colored resin. Some sanding may be required.

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Use Pizza Centre Pieces

From: Laura L (Michael Anderson and PatV also wrote in with this tip)

I haven’t used bottle caps, but something I just thought of while reading this is using the little sort of “Barbie tables” that come in pizza boxes to keep the top of the pizza box from coming in contact with the pizza. They’re on a tripod, so don’t really take up much space. I don’t have one handy, but I *think* they’re tall enough for most minis to fit under.

[Johnn: thanks for the tip Laura, Michael, and Pat. As it so happens, we had pizza at Thursday’s gaming session, and I rescued the little tables. Unfortunately, they’re a bit short for many minis in my collection. However, I discovered that the legs fit perfectly in narrow straws, raising the tables to any height I want, and providing an easy, stable base for minis to stand on, yet allowing minis to be placed below without trouble. Sweet!]
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Use Pill Bottles

From Brent Jans

Heya, Johnn! Just reading the latest issue, and I had a possible solution to the bottle cap question. If you could lay hands on either a large, clear, prescription pill bottle, or a clear film container, you could glue that to the other end of the dowel.

Then, if someone did move into the space directly below the flying figure, the container could be placed over them and people could still see where they are. Wouldn’t work for anything bigger than medium figures, but it’s a thought.

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Use Clear PCV Pipe

From Mike Bourke

Get some 1″ diameter clear PCV pipe (the stiff stuff, not the flexible) and cut it into strips of various lengths, probably 1″, 1.5″, 2″, 2.5″, and 3″. Put a colour-coded sticker on the inside to indicate the height that each represents as 5′ heights (the usual battlemap scale).

Glue your bottle caps (hollow facing out) to the top. Do a few from 1.5″ diameter pipe as well. You should then have a transparent platform upon which a mini can stand, and which will fit over the top of most minis.

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Create A Q-Tip Stand

From Andrew Marlowe

Two bottle caps? Glue one to the top to hold the mini, glue one to the bottom to create a base.  You may also may need to glue something into the lower cap to weigh it down. Also you might want to try 4 smaller dowels or maybe even the plastic portion of a Q-Tip to allow another figure to sit underneath.

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Use Star Wars Bottle Cap Minis

From Russ M.

I had actually been considering something similar like this idea for my Star Wars campaign. Awhile ago, when Episode 1 was on its big campaign blitz, many different advertisers tried to get the hype up by creating cool, themed collectibles with their products. One of these ideas was figurines attached to a bottle cap, and yet another was inlaid 3D “hologram” chips or disks in the bottle cap top.

Plastic soda bottle caps are the perfect size for miniature tokens and fit well on a battlemat, though I don’t know how well they’d be on a hex grid. Probably similar.

Anyway, check eBay for figurines, and check outside the U.S. for other corporate sponsors. Pepsi and Coke are good ones to start with!

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Create Posts With Ballpoint Pens

From Harlequin

You need four posts. The posts should be thin and strong and about 2x the height of a standard mini (2 – 2.5 inches). Possible posts are the thin ink tubes inside disposable ball point pens (use empty ones :).

Glue the four posts around the circumference of the bottle cap such that when the stand is placed on the map, each foot comes down on the corner of a square. This way, you can fit a mini underneath.

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Use Two Bottle Caps And A Nail

From Bryan Barlow

Here’s a thought. Try inserting a nail through the unprinted side of one bottle cap. This will be the top. Push the nail all the way through, up to the head of the nail.

Then push the nail into the printed side of another bottle cap. This will be the bottom. Push the nail in no deeper than the rim of the bottle cap.

You’ll end up with something looking like an upended barbell. Then, stand it upright with the bottom cap resting on the table and set the miniature in the top cap. By using different lengths of nails, you can get different heights. Also, if you use thin brads (or even wire), and paint the bottle caps black, the nail is less noticeable.

If you want to get really fancy, here are some other finishing touches:

  1. Grind the tip of the nail flat after the device is constructed so that it won’t scratch the table top.
  2. Apply rubber sealant to the tip of the nail and/or the bottle cap rims so as not to scratch your table or miniatures.
  3. Glue, weld, or solder the device to assure that it will last and not slide.
  4. If you want to get tricky, don’t use the bottom cap, flip the device upside down, glue a paper clip to the printed side of another bottle cap (so that the clip protrudes by about half past the rim of the cap), and wrap the clip around the nail tightly so as to create an adjustable platform for the mini to sit on.
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Use Magnetic, Stackable Miniature Markers

From Chris J. Whitcomb

Not exactly bottle caps, but magnetic, stackable miniature markers:

[Johnn: thanks Chris. Those things reminded me of poker chips, so I grabbed one and noticed it covers a 10’x10′ area on my battlemat nicely. So, most of the bottle cap tips in this issue could be used with poker chips as well!

In addition, I realized you could glue a poker chip to any mini and turn it into a large scale mini (for D&D scale, at least).]

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Use Two Battlemaps For Normal and Elevated Views

From Tarl Gay

My group once discussed this same issue, and believe it or not, we had the same theory about minis on wooden dowels. In the end, we used 2 battle maps: one from an overhead view showing normal movement, and one measured elevation from a side view.

This actually made measuring area affect and ranges pretty easy since you could plainly count the squares on both battle maps and if your target was in range on both maps then the attack or effect was successful.

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Use Snapple Lids

From Galen

We use plastic bottle caps from Snap20 (by Snapple) water bottles to represent airborne minis. The minis sit on top nicely and the caps are clear, lending an air of realism.

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Use Film Cannister Caps

From Pat V.

We use colored 35mm film cannister caps for most “conditions” (invisible, darkness, held, etc.)

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Conflict Chips

From Johnn Four

I stumbled upon this web site recently. I haven’t seen the product firsthand, but it looks to have potential:

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Use Trimmed Water Bottles

From Fed Blogs

Here’s the perfect recipe for awesome airborne mini stands:

  • Use any clear plastic water bottle
  • Cut off the bottom to desired height
  • Glue your bottle cap upside down to the bottle cap


The bottle will fit over a mini of almost any size. Use bottles of various widths to accommodate wider minis below, or to place over a larger area of a battlemap scene. Cut bottles to desired heights to represent altitude.

Also, you can fit smaller, shorter bottles within larger bottles to stack airborne minis at different altitudes!

You can cut the top of the bottle off too, and glue cardboard to it to give you a platform if you need a playing area in the sky, at a different height, or whatever.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

From Todd C.


I found the article by Jason Pasero on Myth interesting. I’ve actually gone through the process of creating a new myth for a homebrew world. I thought I’d share what I came up with in case you found it interesting.

In my case, I had the following goals:

  1. Create a world where the divine powers were hands-off.
  2. Align the religion primarily on a good-evil axis, with the evil having a law-chaos split.
  3. Establish a conflict between the evil powers where the NG power actually comes into alliance with the LE power against the CE power.
  4. Create a subjugated, CE religion that I could exploit for plot purposes.
  5. Have good and evil created from the same essence (the ‘Energy’ in my case) as an extension of the concept of free will. Yeah, really deep stuff. [Keanu Reeve’s voice]Whoa.[/Keanu Reeve’s voice]

So here it is if interested.

Creation Myth of Aarde

[Excerpted from the Scrolls of Illumination]

The all began as nothing. In the void, The Light sparked into being. It glowed brightly with the power of good. Around The Light, the void receded and revealed an infinite Energy charged with the power of creation. The Light took the Energy and with it formed the stars in the sky and the lands of Aarde. The Light shone upon Aarde and filled it with warmth and life.

As The Light shone upon the lands of Aarde, it cast a shadow over the Energy. Some of the Energy became bound to this shadow and The Shadow became conscious. The Shadow wished to see the illuminated face of Aarde, but could never exist in the presence of The Light. The Shadow grew resentful of The Light and was jealous of The Light’s power over Aarde.

The Light, unaware of the existence of The Shadow, became lonely and decided to use the Energy to seed Aarde with life. The Shadow saw new life arising on Aarde and The Shadow’s jealousy of The Light became absolute. The Shadow used the Energy bound to its form to corrupt some of the life on Aarde.

As The Light watched life growing on Aarde, an awareness of The Shadow’s influence grew. The Light created beings from its essence called Celestials and charged the Celestials to search out the source of the corruption growing on Aarde. As the Celestials ventured into the unlit areas of the Energy, they encountered The Shadow. The Shadow became frightened and believed that The Light had created the Celestials to destroy it. To combat the Celestials, The Shadow divided its essence into many Shadows and attacked the Celestials, driving them back to The Light.

The Shadows and the Celestials fought for many years. These battles extended to the lands of Aarde where elves fought goblins and the dragons of light fought the dragons of shadow. Gradually, the Celestials began to prevail over the Shadows, but at a high cost to the lands of Aarde. Seeing that eventual victory would equal the destruction of its creation, The Light instructed the Celestials to make peace with the Shadows.

Emissaries of the Shadows and Celestials met at the boundary between Light and Shadow. The agreement struck allowed both to exist in the Energy and to grant power to their followers on Aarde, but neither could directly intervene in terrestrial events unless the other side did first.

The Light was happy with the agreement as it would preserve the life of Aarde.

Most of the Shadows were satisfied with the agreement as it would preserve order and give them a chance to use their terrestrial followers to dominate Aarde.

A small host of Shadow, known as the Fiends, were enraged by the agreement. They would rather see Aarde destroyed than surrender the fight against The Light. The Fiends harnessed a portion of the Energy and rained fire down on Aarde, shattering the lands and killing many who followed both The Way of Light and The Path of Shadow.

Seeing their dire peril, both the Shadows and the Celestials fought the Fiends and subdued them. The Light created a crack at the boundary between Light and Shadow and filled it with fire. The Celestials and Shadows cast the surviving Fiends into the crack and The Light sealed it, trapping the Fiends inside.

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So, essentially, I have 4 religions in this world: The Way of Light (NG), The Path of Shadow (LE), the Disciples of Fire (CE), and nature/ancestor worship (N) (for druids and primitive shamans/clerics). Keeps it pretty streamlined for me and I don’t have to worry about statting out any gods. I can just use the celestials, devils, demons, etc. in the Monster Manual for most of the ‘divine NPC’ interactions.

Image Sources

From Loz Newman

A community of artists:

Illustration, some very well known:

An original site dedicated to the dragon in all its forms Draconian

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Customizing Races (D&D)

From Johan

A number of issues ago (over the span of two or three issues, I think), you ran a bit on customizing common races for your game.

While there was certainly a lot of very good information there, I would like to submit that you don’t have to go as far as those articles suggested to get a new spin on a common race.

In our group, we have a campaign that doesn’t lend itself to the gnome as described in the PHB. There isn’t a lot of arcane magic there, for one thing, and the gnome’s usual spell-like abilities are arcane based. I created for use in that campaign what has come to be called the “Dale Gnome” (but what I originally called the “Savage Gnome”). The differences look like this:


The savage gnome is one that belongs in the wilderness, surviving through craftiness and knowledge of the land. These people are specifically wed to forested areas (although you could make changes to suit any climate or terrain).

In the world to which the savage gnome belongs, arcane magic is rare. Because of this, some of the traditional gnome racial benefits did not make sense. Specifically, a gnome’s ability to cast “Dancing Lights” or “Prestidigitation” once per day.

These two elements, sewn together, led us to substitute the three once-per-day 0-level arcane spells for three once- per-day 0-level druid spells.

Specific Differences

Although this variant is similar to the traditional gnome, the race has a few variations on that well-grown parent:

The traditional gnome has a racial benefit where it is granted a +2 to saves versus Illusion. For the savage gnome, this is modified to a +2 racial bonus on saves versus Elemental-based magic (burning hands, lightning bolt…)

The TG gets +1 on their DC to Illusions cast.

The SG gets +1 DC to nature-based Domain spells cast.

This, I think, is a nice balance; for the TG, it assumes that you’re going to be able to cast arcane spells, and for the SG it assumes that you’re going to be able to cast divine ones, although it would apply only to domain spells (which, I think makes a lot of sense).

TG: Weapon Familiarity – Gnome Hooked Hammer

SG: Two-weapon Fighting (emphasis on surviving in a hostile environment, basically swapping a feat for a feat)

TG: +1 Attack vs. Kobolds & Goblinoids

SG: +1 Attack vs. Orcs & Giantkin (they are far more prevalent in this particular world; the specific beast could be changed to suit any campaign)

TG: +2 Craft (Alchemy)

SG: +2 to Handle Animal

Spell-Like Abilities

TG: Speak w/ Animals 1/day (Burrowing)

SG: Speak w/ Animals 1/day (Canine)

My personal thinking on this is that you might be able to choose what type of creature you could talk to 1/day: Canine, Feline, Burrowing, Fish, Ovine, Equine…

TG: Dancing Lights 1/day

SG: 0-lvl Druid Spell 1/day (once chosen, can never change)

TG: Ghost Sound 1/day

SG: 0-lvl Druid Spell 1/day (once chosen, can never change)

TG: Prestidigitation 1/day

SG: 0-lvl Druid Spell 1/day (once chosen, can never change)

In all other aspects, the savage gnome is just like the traditional gnome.

One of the things I like about this race is its flexibility. Given, for instance, that you can decide before playing what the Druid 0-lvl spell might be, every character can be a little different than the next.

I would further submit that if you prefer the traditional gnome, you would be able to choose the 0-lvl arcane spells instead of taking the specified defaults in the PHB. You could also decide what type of animal you want to speak to 1/day.

With this sort of “tweaking”, you could modify an existing race easily to suit a campaign, a terrain, or a player’s personal play style. While creating the religions, politics, and all other ancillary background information that you published is certainly a great undertaking, simple (and slight) modifications are easy to implement and can add huge variety (and personality) to any campaign.

I have been playing with one of these gnomes for a while now, and I find that it fits very nicely into this particular campaign setting.

Thanks for all the tips and the insight into how other folks do things!

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Use Weird News To Inspire Your Campaigns

From Loz Newman

Weird but true stuff. If your players ever have said “That’s not plausible!” use these weirdities in your scenarios and you’ll have the perfect defense….

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The Pros And Cons Of House Rules

From Mike Bourke

House rules are as ubiquitous as they are contentious. Everyone has their own ideas, but how do you judge whether or not it’s worth reinventing the wheel? Last year, I penned a couple of Blog entries addressing this very subject that the readers of Roleplaying Tips might find useful reference:

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Two Diceless Examples

From Sean Murphy


A few months ago the gamers were getting restless and wanted either to change campaigns or wanted something to jazz up their current campaign. A few even suggested they should depose their current GM (me!) and get a new one. When I saw Issue #302 about “Why Go Diceless” I appreciated it, since that was what I did for the final campaign mission I wrote.

Here’s a couple examples from the partially diceless campaign we played.

Cool Diceless Enemies.

The campaign started with a raiding party of orcs and goblins invading and burning villages. The catch was that whenever you killed the orc or goblin they would quickly resurrect and would become immune to whatever it was that finally killed them (there were a lot of diceless rolls near the end of the game for that; “I don’t care if you have a vorpal sword +5, it’s immune to it!”) Going diceless can allow a GM to create a nearly unrealistic challenge. But every unrealistic challenge has to have a way out or a weak spot.

Which brings me to:

A Diceless Mastermind Gets Killed.

To stop the orcs from transforming into something unbeatable, the party had to stop the person who created the super-orcs in the first place. By the time I released this clue, the gamers were about ready to kill me…so I let them. I introduced a mage into the mix who explained that their problem was being caused by the person who had created the campaign, called the GM. The “GM” was completely invincible in their world, so to stop the orcs, the characters had to travel to an alternate universe and kill the GM. (If you think this sounds too far out, think of the plot in the movie “Last Action Hero.” That was where I got my idea.)

This is a great example of how a partially to mostly diceless campaign can be awesome….

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Rolemaster Initiative Tip

From Dominique Michaud

I am a great fan of the Rolemaster system (those great critical tables…) but as you surely know, the combat system is very slow. In one of the Companion books of the 2nd edition, there was an alternative combat system where, instead of rounds of 10 seconds, you function directly with seconds. I don’t know if other fans of Rolemaster use it, but it enhanced our games.

Basically, you assign each type of action a certain amount of time. For example, an attack lasts 8 seconds, drawing a weapon 2 seconds, preparing a spell 9 seconds, casting the spell 7 seconds. Moreover, this time can be modified by your Quickness bonus (more or less) for physical actions, and by Intuition (and/or Self-Discipline) for mental actions (like spells). There is also a difference depending of the type of weapon you are using (a staff is slower than a dagger).

You may think that the faster characters have an advantage, but not that much, because it also applies for monsters too! I remember one of our adventure partners being slow but very effective with is Yrgaak (a huge, two-hand sword that delivers two criticals at the same time). And my magician was not left behind with her Elemental Summons, even if her casting time was slower than that of the priest (because magician spells are more destructive than priestly ones).

I don’t know if that system is interesting for D&D players, but it might be worth a try.