D&D Miniatures11/04/2004

Magnetic Arena
D&D Skirmish, Travel Edition

Has this ever happened to you? You need to take a long flight with your best gaming buddy (to Gencon SoCal, perhaps), and you'd love to spend those hours in friendly D&D minis competition. Sadly, there's nowhere on the plane to spread out the battle mat, and the figures vibrate around on the folding tray table like electric football players.

There's a simple solution -- with a minimal investment of time and money, you can make a magnetized D&D Miniatures battle arena to take along and play anywhere.

Tools & Materials

Very little is required.

For tools, you need scissors, a compass (for a round arena), a ruler, and some glue. Spray adhesive is best, rubber cement is second best, and regular white glue will work if you're the careful type. A hobby-style razor knife might be useful if you have one, but all of the required cutting can be done with sharp scissors.

For materials, you need

  • A biscuit tin. Our example is round, but square or rectangular is also fine. Something 8 to 12 inches across at its widest point is about right; our round tin is 8.5 inches in diameter. If you don't have a suitable tin at home, you probably can buy one at the local thrift store for $2 or less. The tin needs to be made from a metal that attracts magnets. If you go shopping for one, bring along a refrigerator magnet to be sure before buying. Your tin also needs to be clean, so if it's used, wash it with soapy water and let it dry thoroughly (overnight) before starting work.

  • Magnetic tape. This comes in two varieties, thick and thin. The thin stuff comes in small sheets; you don't want that. You want the thick type of magnetic tape that comes in rolls with self-adhesive backing. It can be bought in office supply stores. Ten feet is enough to magnetize a hundred or more miniatures, so you might consider splitting a roll with a friend.

  • A one-inch square grid. We used a spare battle mat from one of our many starter sets. If you don't want to cut up a pristine battle mat, you could photocopy a section of it. If you go that route, it might be worth taking it to a quick-print shop for a high quality photocopy. Everyday copiers like the one at your local library make such high-contrast copies that all the attractive nuances of shading on the battle mat will be lost.

  • Something to put on the walls. This is your chance to get creative. You can draw arches and barred windows, stone doors, fireplaces, alcoves with statues, or whatever else your imagination devises. Another alternative is to use shelf paper, wrapping paper, or wallpaper with an interesting pattern or texture. Or, if you prefer, you can download our stone texture, doors, and arches, and print them out (875 kb zip file).

Making the Arena

Start with the floor sheet. Measure the tin's dimensions on the outside bottom, but measure on the inside of the crimped edges. Then transfer that dimension to your grid. On the grid, measure around your center point, not from an edge. Your center point can be the junction between four spaces or the center of a space. Use whichever center point gives you the best arrangement of spaces around the edges. If your tin is round, use a compass (set to one-half the tin's measured diameter) to mark the sheet's circumference.

Once the floor sheet is cut out, glue it into the tin (which is clean and dry, right?). Always test fit before gluing. Use spray adhesive if you have it because it's the simplest. Follow all the directions on the can. Spray the adhesive onto the underside of the floor sheet, then carefully position the sheet in the tin and press it down.

If you don't have spray adhesive, rubber cement is a good alternative because it doesn't cause wrinkling. If you don't have rubber cement, you can use white glue, but you'll need to use care to avoid wrinkling of the floor sheet. In either case, spread the glue very carefully and thinly with a brush onto either the underside of the floor sheet (OK) or the bottom of the tin (best), then carefully position the sheet in the tin and press it down.

When pressing down the floor sheet, it helps to use a small piece of cardboard (a trading card) or other type of flexible card (library card, credit card) to smooth out bumps and bubbles. You should be able to shift the sheet a bit to get the position right, but work fast because the glue will set quickly.

With the floor sheet installed, move on to the walls. You'll probably need longer walls than you expect. Our sample tin, for example, with its 8.5 inch diameter, needed over two feet of walls to cover the full circumference. Measure the outside dimension of the tin with a tape measure or figure it out mathematically. When you cut your wall pieces, be a little generous with the length and test fit them. Once you see how they fit, you can trim them down if necessary, but it probably won't be necessary. It's best if the wall sections overlap a bit -- that hides the joints better than a flush cut, which is hard to do perfectly.

Use spray adhesive or glue to install the wall sections. Then cut out doors or arches as wanted and glue them to the walls so they line up with the floor grid.

That's it -- the arena is done!

Magnetizing the Figures

This part is easy. Cut pieces of magnetic tape slightly smaller than the inset bottoms of the figures' bases (about 0.75 inches, or 18 mm, for Medium figures). Trim the corners if necessary so that the magnets fit into the bases, then peel off the film from the adhesive backing and stick 'em on.

You might find it helps if the undersides of the bases are washed first with a little soapy water and then dried thoroughly. Usually, though, the adhesive on the magnetic tape is sticky enough to grip most anything.

You'll be tempted to put more magnetic tape on Large figures, but it isn't really necessary. If you use lots of tape, the magnets might stick to the tin so tightly that the figures are hard to move! Try using about the same amount of tape on everything and see how that works before going overboard. If you need more, use more.

Using the Arena

As noted at the beginning, with the figures magnetized, you can play with this arena on the school bus, in the car, on an airplane, at the park on a windy day, or anywhere else. You can even get halfway through a battle, put the lid on the tin, carry it across town, and pick up right where you left off. Store your magnetized figures, stat cards, and dice in the tin when you're not playing. Figures that aren't involved in this battle can be stuck to the tin's lid during the game, or you can use the lid for dice rolling.

Obviously, your arena is smaller than the full battle mat, so you won't be able to play competitive skirmishes under the standard rules. It's perfect, however, as a setting for staged pit battles between teams of gladiators, wizards, prisoners, and monsters, or as a standard dungeon room.

Other Ideas

There's no need to stop here. The arena can be "improved" many ways:

  • Glue a piece of cardboard into the lid so rolling dice don't clatter loudly.

  • Magnetize a few small, plastic, wedding cake columns or stones to use as obstacles.

  • Laminate the top side of the floor grid before gluing it down. That allows room features to be drawn with erasable markers directly onto the grid.

  • Use extra figures as statues.

  • If you build your arena in a rectangular tin that's approximately 8 x 5 (or 10 x 8) inches, you could leave the bottom clear and instead place standard terrain tiles directly into the tin. The magnetized figures will hold the tiles in place during play.

About the Author

Steve Winter is a writer, game designer, and web producer living in the Seattle area. He's been involved with publishing D&D in one form or another since 1981. Tiny people and monsters made of plastic and lead are among his favorite obsessions.

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