Tutorial: Fireball Template

Building a Better Fireball Template
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The finished template.
Tools and Supplies:
  • transparent coloured plastic
  • fine grade sandpaper or a sanding block
  • jigsaw or jeweler's saw
group of adventurers has braved the darkest catacombs of your latest dungeon, killing off every challenge with surprising and annoying ease. Quietly leaning behind the DM screen to make some modifications to the next villain, you scratch out that potion of heroism -- ah, screw it, keep that, too -- and add a wand of fireballs. Sure, they're only 3rd level characters, but they've brought this on themselves. All that's left is to decide who gets caught in the blast.

If you're part of a regular gaming group, you probably already have a dry-erase mat or a large section of grid paper suitably sized for miniatures (each 1" square being equal to 5' space). Unfortunately, it can really slow down the dramatic pace of a game to draw in the blast radius of your favourite area-of-effect spell. And once you're done with it, now you have to either take the time to erase it or leave it muddling up the map. In addition, most wizards, whether on the side of the monsters or the player characters, often have multiples of these spells. What's needed is a convenient template that you can quickly lay down when needed.

Paper and wire templates are both options. Sadly, paper is opaque and not particularly durable while wire templates can be expensive or prone to wobbling. There's a far better way: transparent plastic.

The Basics

Drawing the template.
Drawing the outline of the desired template.
Perhaps obvious from the title, for this tutorial I'll be making a fireball spell template for the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. This spell bursts outward in a 20' radius area-of-effect, so considering the standard scale of 1" being equal to 5' this means the plastic template will need to be 8" wide. Though fireball is one of the staple spells of D&D gaming, the size is also very useful for a host of other spells.

The plastic for this template comes from a transparent plastic clipboard I found in an old box of toys. It has a red-pinkish tone rather than orange-red, but it'll still get the point across. Plastic such as this comes in a multitude of different colours, including blue, red, green, and even smoke, and it's usually cheap.

Despite how fun it sounds, we can not just cut wildly into our plastic and hope it'll turn into something resembling a template. We'll need to trace the shape of the template. The easiest way to do this is to lay the plastic over your gaming grid and, using a straight edge or ruler, draw the outline to match the grid. This is quite fast, though if you don't have access to an appropriately scaled grid, you can just draw the outline the "old fashioned way" using a ruler.

For the outline, I used a red magic marker. The shade stands out from the colour of the plastic well enough to see where to cut but doesn't contrast strongly enough to be seen once the shape is finished. If you want multiple templates, it's wise to plan that out at this stage so that you can trace all those you need from a single piece of plastic.

Kep's Footnotes: A Good Source for Raw Materials
Cheesy Plastic Clipboards -- a Boon to All.
The best plastic to use for making templates needs to be around 3/16" thick (for durability) and at least 8" wide (for approximating 20' radius spell effects). Though two good sources are Plastruct or Evergreen, this can be expensive -- some of their plastic sheets cost upwards of $8 US a piece.

However there's a cheap source of the exact sort of plastic we need in a multitude of garish, transparent colours which are perfect for spell effects: plastic clipboards! These were really popular back in the high schools of the eighties with their "neon day glo" tones. At discount stores like WalMart, Family Dollar, or Dollar Tree, you can find clipboards for as little as $1 US a piece.

The next step is cutting out the template. For those without access to power tools, you can do this with a jeweler's saw and pinvise. These are exceptionally useful tools, and something that I feel every modeler should already own. At all places where two lines come together to form an inward facing 90 degree angle, use the pinvise to drill a hole. This helps prevent cracking and will make it possible for you to rotate the jeweler's saw to follow the next line. It'll take some time, but use this method to cut out the entire template, taking extra care to follow the outline as precisely as you can.

Cutting the template out.
Cutting the template out.
If you have access to a bandsaw, the process is fast and easy. To prevent cracking, lower the blade guard as far as possible and use a fine-toothed saw blade. The bandsaw should cut through the plastic like a knife goes through butter, but do not rush it or your could easily ruin the template. Move slowly and precisely, and as always watch those fingers!

It should go without saying that whenever you cut plastic, you should be wearing a dust mask. If you're using a bandsaw, eye protection is also very important.

As you cut, especially if you're using a bandsaw, you may notice that the edges are not necessarily smooth. These rough spots can be smoothed with fine grade sandpaper. To preserve transparency near the edges, run the sandpaper back and forth at a 45 degree angle to the surface of the template so that it strikes only the very edges.

You now have a finished template! That's really all there is to it. You may want to lay the template on a grid and check that all the edges are straight and line up well. It's difficult to trim or sand a mistake down so this is why care must be taken when cutting it out in the first place.

If you want to take things a step further, you can always label your template, paint flames or other spell effects on it, or glue cotton balls to the edges. With any of these things, ensure that you leave plenty of room to see through the template; otherwise it defeats the purpose. Personally I prefer being able to quickly stack the template in with my D&D books without worrying about scratching up fancy designs, but the choice is up to you.

Square base holes.
An evil wizard blasts a meddling bunch of player characters. Thanks to the template, it's clear to see that one is outside the blast effect. Damn! Maybe next round, Mr. Wizard, maybe next round.
Now it's time to get out there and put that template to use. Player characters beware!


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