Mass producing terrain…

So, one of my (few!) commenters made a comment implying that my terrain items could potentially be turned into a “collection” of items. I suppose the intention was just to allow them to be coordinated, but it calls into question whether or not there might be any potential to take some of my concepts here and “productize” them.

It’s not a crazy idea. There are three or four companies which make a good bit of cash selling either cast terrain elements (DwarvenForge) or molds for casting your own terrain elements (Hirst Arts).

Dwarvenforge sells remarkably limited sets of terrain elements for upwards of $130 a set. This is eye-popping expense to someone like me who would probably balk at spending 1/3 of that for the sets that Dwarvenforge offers. Hirst Arts is a far more economical approach, but even then their molds are over $30 each, and you need several of them. The great benefit of Hirst is that you can then make dozens of copies of the items you need at much lower cost (but don’t underestimate the cost of casting materials… better buy it in bulk if you go this way). But molds don’t last forever, I typically get a couple dozen casts from a mold before it starts to degrade.

I have deliberately avoided using molds and castings for my terrain because of the simple fact that mold and casting material is so danged expensive. It makes sense to me to use ten bucks worth of mold material and ten bucks worth of casting material to make a dozen miniatures that would cost around $5 each purchased separately. For my recent dragon casting exercise I made about a dozen dragons using about $35 worth of casting and molding materials when each individual dragon costs almost $30, so that’s a “savings” of over a hundred bucks (as if I would have bought a dozen dragons in the first place…).

But terrain elements like Dwarvenforge or Hirst are not really subject to the same economies of scale because of the sheer number of cast pieces you need to make a dungeon. Let’s look at a typical tavern as an example. Let’s say you wanted to construct a tavern using detailed individual modular elements for everything from the floor to the walls, to stairs, tables, bar, fireplace….

Let’s look at a small tavern, say something like 30′ x 40′ (that would be 6×8 dungeon squares + walls).

Right off the bat you see that you will need at minimum 63 individual modular elements for the floor and walls. Then you need tables, benches, barrels, fireplace, stairs…. Figure another couple dozen individual elements so that you end up with 87 “pieces” each of which has to be cast, painted and assembled into the tavern. (Remember this is a SMALL tavern).

That’s probably $50 worth of casting material right there, unless you are buying casting resins by the barrel. And that’s ONE ROOM.

Some of the examples of dungeons created using Dwarvenforge or Hirst arts components would literally require a couple hundred bucks worth in raw casting resin costs. Dwarvenforge adds about a 400% markup on top of that, so figure you’re close to a THOUSAND BUCKS for a single sessions worth of dungeon crawl construction.

That’s why I go the way I go with the uber-cheap approach using styrene, foam-core poster board, handfuls of rocks or pebbles I can get from my backyard, etc…

Sure it doesn’t look as awesome as a Dwarvenforge dungeon, but for me to make a tavern comparable to the Dwarvenforge tavern discussed above would likely cost me about ten bucks total in raw materials. And it should play just as well from a tactical perspective.

So the question is, would the market support such a low-cost alternative to the exorbitant cost of the Dwarvenforge approach, or the highly manually intensive work of the Hirst approach?

And even if it did, would I be interested in mass-producing any of my designs?

Hmm…. dunno… I think if I did aproach mass-producing this stuff, I would come up with ways to cut and assemble the elements which would end up with more consistent results, which would mean more aesthetically pleasing end products…

But would anyone buy it? Hard to say…

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