Thursday, September 2, 2010

Building a gladiatorial arena (layout and design)

Continuing my plan to build a large arena for my Dark Sun campaign, I wanted a play surface that would evoke a lot of potential concepts... the something that could be used for any type of gladiator combat, be it the Roman Colosseum, or the Battle Arena in Star Wars. So.. first off, graph paper.

Oh, the possibilities.
 For graph paper, if you don't have any handy, but do happen to have Photoshop, it's pretty easy to make a piece. I created a 30cm x 50cm canvas, filled it with white, and then turned gridlines on. I went into the grid options, set the grid lines to one per cm, colored them a nice shade of blue, and done... a perfect 30x50 grid.

Then, I used some very basic tools to layout the arena itself... after just a few minutes, I had this:

It's actually less interesting now, isn't it?
Here we have a very basic layout of my arena. I'll take a sheet of 30" x 50" 1.5 inch thick pink styrofoam insulation, and I'll grid the whole thing via a carpenter's square and a Sharpie. You can purchase this stuff at Lowe's or Home Depot... it's actually called 'Sheathing' and comes in 4'x8' sheets. 1.5" thickness sheets cost about $20 here, which is a huge piece that you can use for many, many projects. I'll be buying a sheet for my arena, and use the other 2/3 of the sheet to build various arena modules, and still have enough left over to do another huge project later.

This will get me a bright pink work surface with a battlegrid on top of it. I'll rough out the curve of the arena walls with a pencil, until I get the curves right, and I'll also mark out the 'light' areas. Once I've gotten my board marked up apropriately, it's time to get to work.

An Exacto knife along the edges a few times will cut deep enough that I can snap the pieces off the corners. I'll probably do this in three-four chunks per corner, just to keep the breaks clean. Then, for the harder parts.

First, I'll want to carve out the gridlines. I will use my Hotwire Foam Factory for this... I have an engraving tool, and I simply use it to gouge a shallow rivulet down each of the gridlines. You can use a guide for this, but I have fairly steady hands and like it to be a little organic, so I will do it free-hand.

The three large areas of lighter color are where I want my 'modules' for the arena. So, I need to cleanly and carefully cut these out. For this I'll use a straight craft saw, and cut them out along the grid lines. If I am very careful, you'll not really be able to tell they are removable.

At this point, I'll have a basic 1.5" thick battle surface with three removable pits. The other light areas are going to be the stairs the are used to enter the arena... I will carve out 1" wide steps, each step .5" high, so that you will walk up onto the battle surface. Now the structure of the arena floor will be done.

The next step will be relatively difficult, and I'm not certain how to handle it right now... I want a low wall around the entirety, with the two entrances with doors. Normally, I'd use Hirst Arts molds, but this is a huge surface... so I can either try to smoothly cut styrofoam in a curve (not likely), or use flexible material... plasticard, light cardboard, balsa or basswood. During the planning phases, I'm not really sure what I'll be using, so a trip to Hobby Lobby is clearly in order.

Before I do that, though, I'll want to paint everything. I paint every surface with a thick, brush-on primer. This will allow me to safely use aerosols (primers, paints, sealants, whatever) without melting the styrofoam. I'll take out the modules for this part, so I can get the sides as well. When I'm done, you'll no longer be able to tell it's bright pink home sheathing.

So that's it for theory... if I have time this weekend, I'll do this in reality and take some pictures so you can see it as it comes together in real life.

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