3d printing and Dungeons & Dragons

Posted on October 29, 2018 by

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3d printing has positioned itself as an emerging technology that could upend the way we approach D&D accessories and decorate our table. It is fascinating to watch how quickly it has grown and entered gaming culture, almost out of nowhere, and has led to people creating things for our games we thought were well out of reach and best left for big companies to handle. Today, custom plastic miniatures and terrain are a something we can create at home, and use in our games, something probably unheard of just 10 years ago. I recently dipped my toes in the 3d printing waters, and wanted to share with you my experience so far.

The first thing I discovered is that this is a hobby in it of itself, it’s quite the rabbit hole to go down. If you are a fan of tinkering with machines, then 3d printing may be up your alley, as I’ve learned that this bobby requires you to be very hands on with your machine–the amount of failed prints in my workspace tell me so.

So lets talk about my setup… (full disclosure: any Amazon link is an Associate link that drops a few pennies in my tip jar)…

I went with what my research led me to to believe is the best entry level printer on the market, the Ender 3 Pro. I believe it’s the best entry level printer for a few reasons:

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  • Price. I paid $279 for the printer. Not bank breaking when you consider other printers out there can cost close to $1000.
  • Reviews. This printer has a lot of recommendations going for it.
  • Bang for your buck. This printer prints high-quality stuff considering it is cheap and entry level piece of tech. I’m no expert, but a lot of reviewers highlight that fact!
  • Community. There are TONS of resources available for this printer on the web.

For the filament (the actual material the printer uses), I went through Amazon, and a $20 spool of black PLA  filament. If I could do it again, I’d probably go with white or grey (you can get it in different colors), only because white seems to show details in prints better than black does. This material can be primed and painted with acrylic paint just fine, by the way.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 10.22.04 AM

So the printer comes unassembled, but thankfully there are a lot of videos out there showing you how to put it together. Remember what I said about this printer’s community? You’ll learn how large it is the moment you start putting it together.

Gaming company Fat Dragons Games has a great video on youtube about assembling this printer. They started as a paper-craft company for D&D terrain, but have now ventured into the world of 3d printing, selling 3d files of gaming terrain you can print at home on your 3d printers.

Once you assemble your printer and get yourself some ink  plastic, you need to get a slicer program. A slicer program basically preps the 3d files into a format your printer then translates into the actual physical model. In it, you see a replica of your print bed, and can arrange the wireframe models in position (you can print a few models at a time depending on your print surface area) and determine if you want to print drafts or fine prints. Almost like a photo printer. 🙂

I went with a program called Cura, which seems to be one of the better ones out there.

So how did my first steps into 3d printing turn out? Well, not great…

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This was supposed to be a boat

This printer requires a bit of tinkering with the print bed to get right, leveling it and making sure the nozzle is at the right distance from the printing surface area are essential steps in getting this thing to work correctly.

Frustration quickly set in, and in fact I came very close to quitting. But I’m glad I didn’t! Once you get the hang of it, it’s not that hard to get quality prints going. Yes, you will have failed prints at times, but it gets easier!

So lets get to WHAT exactly we can make. DM’s, you are in for a real wealth of options for your games if you decide to give 3d printing a go!

For minis, you have a few options. Here’s where I am finding my stuff these days:

  • Thingiverse. This is a web site that hosts 3d models people design and give away as Creative Common creations. You can search the site using terms like “D&D minis” “28mm miniatures” or any other similar term, and you’ll have tons of models to keep you busy for days!

Check out this gnome bard I downloaded and printed off Thingiverse. It was my first D&D related print soon after I got my printer.

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Primed him white and he’s ready to be painted.

Thingiverse has tons of minis and terrain ready to download and print and I can’t recommend it enough as a place to go for free models. Free is good…

  • Hero Forge. Hero Forge has quickly grown into the place to go for quality 3d printed miniatures delivered to your home. They come with a price, Hero Forge isn’t cheap, but the quality is there. I’m not sure about the technical aspects of what their print process is like, but it’s higher detailed than what I believe something like my printer can output. If someone out there knows more, please leave a comment below! Hero Forge also makes their 3d files available for purchase. So if you design a mini on there, and want to print it at home, you have that option. I believe they charge $10 to download a model. The benefit is that you can custom design those.
  • MZ4250’s D&D models. Miguel Zavala is a dude I met on twitter who has pretty much modeled every creature in the monster manual and has made the files available for printing. He’s also tackled some of the other books, including Volo’s Guide to Monsters and Tomb of Annihilation. Seriously, he’s a model making machine.

I used his Atropal miniature for my Tomb of Annihilation game, and I was really happy with how it turned out. I printed, primed, and painted this puppy as my first real project for D&D/3d printing. Check it out!

For terrain, there are many options as well, although I have yet to fully jump into that arena… Some terrain comes very close to replicating the awesomeness that is Dwarven Forge, a favorite (but pricey) option for many DMs out there. The benefit of printable terrain is that you download the file once and can print out as much as you like.

  • Fat Dragon Games. These folks have added 3d printing to their paper craft business, and it is really good quality, based on what I see and reviews on the web. They have a line of modular snap-on terrain called DragonLock, and even offer a free sample on their site.
  • Printable Scenery.  These folks have AWESOME stuff for sale. They also embrace a standard known as OpenLock, which allows many modular terrain options to work together, creating really unlimited possibilities at your table. They also have a sample pack available for free download.
  • Open Forge. This terrain collection on Thingiverse is mind blowing. Seriously. Just go check it out. This is really close to Dwarven Forge in quality, and is Open Lock compatible as well, making it a great FREE option.

So there are some links to get you started down the rabbit hole. But that’s not all. There are some great accounts and people to follow that’ll make the journey into 3d printing easier. Here are a few:

@3dprintingdm – Danny, a fellow DM based out of Florida like me was a godsend when I fist got my printer. He helped me walkthrough the setup and with getting started printing. He runs a GREAT youtube channel dedicated to 3d printing for D&D and is one of the top accounts to follow in that arena. He recently ran a Kickstarter campaign for Dragon 3d models.

@mz4250 –  Miguel 3d modeler who has created a ton of D&D minis for us to use in our games. He’s a MUST follow if 3d printing for D&D is going to be your thing.

@markmeredith Mark’s a long time friend from the old 4e days, and he’s recently also started getting into 3d printing. He’s been doing a lot of terrain stuff and it’s been fun to watch him create things for his game. Give him a follow!

I will be adding to this post as suggestions come in on what are some good accounts to follow.

So does this mean that I’ve given up on other things, like tiles, tokens, and paper minis? Absolutely not! 3d printing is but another tool in my DM toolbox that I can use for my games, but it isn’t the only one.

I recently became a Patreon of Printable Heroes, because my love of paper minis is THAT strong! Check these minis out:

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Why would I NOT use this at my table? (The ware-rat is from Trash Mob Minis)

 

I also recently bought a pack of Arknight Games’ Flat Plastic Minis on Amazon. These come printed on a sturdy clear plastic, and while useful enough, I found the art to be a little on the bland side. I much prefer the cartoony expressive style of the paper minis above, but YMMV and it’s purely a subjective thing!

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And for terrain, well, I haven’t really 3d printed anything yet. But…  there are many alternatives, including making your own. For example, I recently kitbashed on Photoshop and printed a poster map of D&D’s famous The Yawning Portal tavern, using elements from @dysonlogos maps from the new D&D Waterdeep: Dragon Heist hardcover book. The Yawning Portal features in that campaign, yet inexplicably was not given a map, so I created my own. It cost me about 4 dollars to get this printed as a “Engineering Print” at Staples. I uploaded the B&W art, and had them print it. $4! Super cheap. Could I 3d print one? Sure, but I’ll pick my battles when it comes to that, since 3d printing is very time consuming.

I should also point out that the filament is cheap in relation to how much is used when you print something out. Minis cost maybe between .35-.45 cents when it’s all added up.

So no, 3d printing won’t be my ONLY alternative for my games. Like I said, it’s another tool, but a really cool one. If you decide to step into the 3d printing world, I’d love to see what you create. Leave comments below, and tell us what you’re up to!


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If you would like to support NewbieDM.com, perhaps you’d consider visiting Amazon.com for your next rpg related purchase. Check out the following products:

D&D: Tomb of Annihilation

D&D Tomb of Annihilation Dice

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Posted in: 5e D&D, DM Tools, Gaming