Miniature Spelljammer – Scratchbuild (Part 1)

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For anyone unfamiliar with the Spelljammer expansions, back in 1989 the writers of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons decided that a magical middle-earth fueled by the dreams of nerds and libraries of modules wasn’t expansive enough. So they took us to space.

Dungeons and Dragons…in space. Just let that sink in. Illiterate barbarians operating complex space-faring machinery. Sorcerers throwing fireballs into the dark depths of the cosmos. Bards no longer limited to creepily hitting on wenches from their home planet. It was beautiful, and it was ridiculous.

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Google Images / Spelljammer.Wikia

But one facet of the Spelljammer expansion stood out; The ships. The Spelljammer ships were a signature of the series. You can’t go into space without a ship. And for Dungeons and Dragons that doesn’t mean getting a bunch of Wizards together and inventing NASA. It means magical sailing ships that can fly, and all the beautiful and wondrous variety that brought with it. But I digress. If you want to see a lineup of Spelljammer ships, from the sleek and steady to the ridiculous, a quick Google search will suffice.

Here, for the first time, is my attempt to create my own Spelljammer Helm from scratch.

Step 1: Ship Shape

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Ransack your house for objects to trace…

Materials: Foam-core Board, Straight Needles, Exacto-Blade, Tape Dispenser (no tape used), white glue.

Recently my local Dollar Store started selling white foam-core board. About 10 years ago when I was using these boards to mat presentation in college they ran about 5 bucks for a 2′ by 1′ sheet. All told this project cost me a single board and half a bottle of white glue, so about $1.50 total.

For my Spelljammer, which I wanted to be on the small size for a 6-man crew, I started hunting around for oblong objects apx. 8 inches in length. See the tape dispenser on the left? Kinda looks like a boat deck…

Spelljammer_02Next I cut a keel (left) by tracing the middle of the deck and measuring out a prow and bow that would extend past the deck by another inch in the front, and half an inch in the back. I also cut 1-cm strips of foam-core for the hull. More on those later.

Step 2: Quarterdeck (And Wheel, Possibly)

Above you can see the initial quarterdeck as well. AKA where the captain stands and pilots the ship. Note I don’t have a captain’s wheel. Some Spelljammers have wheels, others are piloted by magic or telepathy alone. I chose the latter for my ship.

For the initial cut I made a quarter-length tracing of the tape dispenser again and layered it 5 times. 4 layers for the quarterdeck, and 1 thin layer for the railing.

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Gouge fingers with knife as necessary.

I waited for the quarterdeck to dry before tapering the layers together for a more gentle curve.

Spelljammer_04I then cut the railings into tapers as well, and sliced into the front protrusion to form the steps. Note that any surface I glue to another piece of foam-core, I first strip away the outer paper layer.

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Once I had the quarterdeck where I wanted it I set it with white glue, glued the keel to the deck, and pinned everything together.

Step 3: Hull

With the pins in place I didn’t have to worry about waiting for the glue to set. I moved on to the hull right away.

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Here I set the first two hull planks on. It’s easiest to squirt the glue on the deck’s edge before wrapping the hull around it. Remember; using straight pins makes every part of the process easier and more forgiving.

Spelljammer_07At this stage I let the ship sit overnight, because the hull below the deck-level is a monstrous pain in the ass and will test your patience. Make sure everything at this stage is very secure, and re-glue any gaps or wiggle-points you find.

Step 4: Beveling the Planks

Remember those 1-cm strips from above? Now it’s time to cut a 45-degree bevel along the planks on both the right and left sides. This will help the planks seal after every strip you add to the hull. If you’re looking at the plank from the end it should look like a trapezoid.

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“Don’t look up at the TV… Don’t look up at the TV… Don’t–f*#k!”

If your bevel isn’t perfectly straight, don’t worry about it. Foam-core is soft and forgiving, meaning you can mash two segments together with glue and pin it into place anyway. Like puzzle pieces made of dish sponge.

Spelljammer_09See where the planks fit together, there isn’t a massive gape where two 90-degree angles meet? Bevel it, baby. Bevel it all night.

Spelljammer_10When you reach the underside you’ll start to test the bend limit of foam-core strips. If you’re careful a 1-cm strip can make a 45-degree turn over a few inches. I needed a shitload of straight pins to manage it though, so go slow and be careful not to snap your plank.

Spelljammer_11Finally, for the bottom hull (the strips touching the keel) I used 1.5-cm strips and wedged them under the oblong gaps. I then traced the inside gaps and cut the foam-core to size.

I also re-glued the gaps between the planks, beveled where the planks met the keel, and cemented the upper limb of the double-prow (seen left, on top of the 5E character sheet)

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Of course it has fins…

With the ship mostly complete I started building the fins. My plan is to eventually give it a narrow fish-like profile, which means multiple fin sails. I also wanted it to stand without extra sprues so I made the larger fins load-bearing by shoving straight-needles without the heads into the foam and securing it with more glue.

Spelljammer_13Here she is; the HMS Fishgun (name pending)

I intend to paint it and add more material decorations and flare, but that will be in the next update. Which will henceforth be known as Fishgun Part 2: Fishgun’s Revenge.


Featured Image from Spelljammer.Wikia

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