TheSheDM’s Tutorial on Building an Aerial Grid

Posted on February 22, 2011 by

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If you read Penny Arcade, you might remember Gabe’s post regarding his infamous free-fall encounter and you might have been impressed with his multi-tiered set up. I was, and a while back I decided to create my own version. An upcoming game for my players involved their first combat with a real flying opponent. How amazing would it be to have the dragon actually hovering over their heads and blasting its deadly breath from above! I originally wrote up a construction guide of my aerial grid under my WotC forum username long before I ever decided to seriously blog about D&D. For NewbieDM.com I wanted to revisit that tutorial because it felt so near and dear to the mission of NewbieDM.com – in fact a tutorial was the very first reason I had ever visited the site. So, for my inaugural post, I’ll present how I made my aerial grids as well as what I learned from the process.

If you’d like an aerial grid to add an extra dimension of combat to your next game you can make one with a little time and a few supplies. Make a visit to your local craft store, although you might want to swing by the hardware store depending on what materials you want. Your basic shopping list is:

  1. Glass or plexi of the size you want
  2. Glue or epoxy
  3. Sandpaper, medium grit
  4. Pillars for support
  5. A straight edge for lines and measuring
  6. Permanent marker

Raw Materials

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If you want to work with glass, cheap picture frames like this one come in all shapes an sizes. I bought a 12×12 and disposed of the plastic frame for my first attempt at an aerial grid. Glass is heavy but weighs down the piece very well – keeps it from being easily budged or tipped on the table. On the downside, I worried constantly about dropping it during transport. Your alternative material is plexi: available at your local hardware store. I bought two sheets of 11″x14″ Lexan acrylic polycarbonate for my second attempt: a double-decker aerial grid.

My recommendation: Glass is cheap, plentiful, and looks nicer – if you game at home and handle with care – use it. If you travel to another location to game then plexi is the better choice. It’s lightweight, flexible, and can handle a beating.

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Glue! I picked this brand with a nifty brush to avoid adhering my fingers together like I usually do. Epoxy or hot glue would probably work too, but I have not tried them, Experiment at your own risk, that being said…

My recommendation: Crazy glue is brittle and doesn’t flex well. If you’re working with glass that’s fine, and it will work with plexi if you’re not manhandling the deck all the time. You may want to try a more flexible glue if you use plexi and anticipate the finished piece will receive rough handling.

For my pillar supports I found an excellent selection of cake pillars at the craft store – they had a wide assortment. Plain white plastic ones were very cheap and could have been painted black or other colors. I ended up selecting this set of 6 pillars because they were square shaped and looked sturdy.

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Even better, they break down into separate components. The end caps of each pillar pops off and the pillar itself is hollow. They’re super lightweight and clear so they’ll be unobtrusive on the clear glass/plexi grid.

My recommendation: If you’re playing at home then solid pillars like the plain cake pillars or even wooden dowels are fine. If you travel, you’ll benefit from pillars like these that can be removed and put back on for easy storage and assembly.

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I needed a grid for combat of course, so I cheated and laid out my vinyl mat as a guide. I used permanent marker and a ruler to keep the lines neat and straight and worked left-to-right so my hand didn’t smear ink as you move across the glass or plexi.

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Here you can see I’ve set the end caps for the pillars on the grid. If you are using solid pillars, you’ll have your pillars set out at each corner. Sandpaper is useful here to give texture for the glue to grip. Just give the glass/plexi a gentle rub to scratch the surface. Also rub the contact end of your pillar. The glue will bond better this way and your pillars are less likely to fall off mid-game (like mine did!). Use canned air or just fan away the fine dust before you glue so that it doesn’t obstruct the glue from bonding with the surfaces. Set the whole thing aside to dry for several hours so the glue can set firmly.

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All done! You can repeat the steps to create a double-deck aerial grid…

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The finished product is amazingly sturdy. Since the pillars pop out easily, I was able to pack this up and store it inside a padded bag. My players never even knew I had it until I pulled it out, popped the pieces together in five seconds, and set it on the table. Unlike the glass, plexi will flex slightly when you’re wrestling with popping the columns into place, but thanks to the sanding work done, the supports stay firmly glued in place.

Posted in: 4e D&D, DM Tools, Gaming