9/26/2014

Frugal GM Review: Inked Adventures Crypts, Tombs, & Catacombs

Frugal GM Review: Inked Adventures Crypts, Tombs, & Catacombs
One of the few folks I "follow" over at DriveThruRPG is Billiam Babble, creator of the Inked Adventures line. His newest tile product, Crypts, Tombs, & Catacombs,  has been years in the making and I've been watching in earnest over in his G+ feed.

Needless to say I was quite stoked to get my hands on this product and give it a whirl. If you saw the reams (literally reams) of printed paper tiles and terrain I had lying in nice little bins waiting for me to assemble them you'd realize that I may have a problem. You'd also realize the simple fact that I actually put these together is quite significant on its own.

First off though, you have to get the files. Mr. Babble was kind enough to give me a set for review, which is great because then that means I can use the money I'd have spent on buying the product on putting it together. With regards to the files I was quickly impressed and frustrated. When you purchase Crypts, Tombs, & Catacombs you get two downloads, one for the US (Letter) and another for the rest of the civilized world (A4), and neither PDF file is locked down. I won't bore you with how great that makes me feel, because while Mr. Babble clearly states that these files aren't for use with a VTT, I'd like to be able to play with them so I can use them with my VTT. The problem was I couldn't open the PDF files in Photoshop, even though the PDF wasn't locked down. Since I hadn't run into this before it took me a while to figure out what was the issue. I'm a bit spoiled in that I use Adobe Acrobat Pro, but these PDFs were created using LibreOffice. The PDF works just fine unless you want to do what I was trying to do. Re-printing the PDF to another PDF in Acrobat Pro fixed that issue.

Super-useful Brayer
Since the PDF wasn't locked down I was able to simply extract the pages I wanted, which were just the catacomb tiles, to have printed and take just the smaller PDF to FedEx Kinkos for printing. At 53¢ a sheet of "regular" paper vs. $1.09 (or so) for printing on cardstock, the regular paper was a no-brainer. It was no big deal using some spray adhesive to laminate the beautifully printed tiles to some 110# cardstock. Now one big help I've found is to use what is called a brayer to roll over the printed page to help flatten and adhere it to the cardstock. I use the brayer again later and this $5 tool has proven quite useful for papercraft in general.  I like to press
Tools of the tilemaker
the sheets flat under a heavy book for an hour as the spray glue recommends. Afterwards I cut the tiles out roughly, leaving a cm or two gap around the edges. Then I like to roll out some lamination plastic and cover the tiles (actually the way I do it is I have the lamination plastic sticky side up and place the tiles printed side down, then flip the whole thing before smoothing it out with the brayer). Then all I need to do is to cut the tiles out precisely from the excess plastic, which also trims out the cardstock as well. I like to use a good ruler and cutting wheel.

Now I should note that I had purchased some craft foam to try and build up the sides to make 2.5 tiles, but in testing I found the foam did not glue up to the high-end lamination plastic I'm using and didn't really glue up to itself all that well with the multi-purpose glue I was using. Hot glue might work, but in the end I liked the protection of the plastic lamination over the heightened walls. On my next batch of tiles, before lamination I think I'd use the craft foam to make a nice base for the tiles. In my tests the foam did a good job gripping the table and keeping the tiles from sliding around.

2.5 Test Pieces and example of deckled edge
While I was at it, I did print off a couple extra sheets of tiles to attempt a 2.5 build. Originally I was going to use a Deckle Scissors to cut strips of foam to layer as edging (I bought a HUGE roll of craft foam cheap at Michaels) and I found the deckle edging worked great with the bones. I also just happened to have some balsa wood square dowels of pretty much the perfect width so I gave it a go as well. I think the end result needs some work and if I wanted to do this again I'd probably edit the files in Photoshop to
2.5 Test Piecemake a full page of bone walls, have it printed to clear sticker stock and essentially "tape" the bone texture over my balsa wood. The clear stock doesn't print white so the light sections of the bones would allow the balsa wood to shine through....which would look great and could be altered by simply staining the wood. I'd still laminate the base tile pieces and instead of gluing probably staple or use pins to secure the walls to the floor. This is a lot of work though, but I think the effect would be cool.

Sliding Scale for 1 Page Only
Ok at this point I have a full set of tiles that consist of cardstock, printed page, and lamination. I think they came out really good but right off the bat I noticed a rather glaring issue with page 8 of the PDFs. That one page is a trio of long corridors that would be 55' in scale. Why is this an issue? I'm actually just typing this sentence out to give my 12 readers a chance to have it occur to them without me saying anything.....anyone? .....anyone?....anyone? If you go to a 1" = 5' scale, which what the general intention, that means this is an 11' corridor of paper. Still not following? Well unless you are having things professionally printed and trimmed with presses, your work isn't going to be full bleed which means you have to reserve some of the edges. Basically this one page has 11" of tile packed into 10" of printing.

D'oh!

Minor Issues
I assume this was just an oversight on Mr. Babble's part because this is the only page that I've seen this. Another thing that was only noticeable once everything is printed is that the tile sizes/bones border isn't quite consistent between sheets. It isn't a terrible issue and there is some mention of possible irregularities like this on the product page and it isn't something I'd make too big a deal about, although it does deserve mentioning since it is a review.

Two Transition OptionsThe only other issue I had with the set, or more specifically the pages I printed, were that I really didn't care for the connector pieces. These were basically one-square-wide open ended pieces with bone walls at a funky angel intended to allow a passage way between walls. Now if the walls were a convenient 1/2 square wide, and the connectors did not have angled walls I think they would work fine. As-is you basically have to get a bit "fiddly" with tile placement and then the angled walls just don't always work out so well. Considering these connector pieces were relatively a pain to cut out, I don't think they were worthwhile at all. I think a better connector, at least for one square-wide passageways, would be to cut up that odd sized 11 square-long hallway tile.

Frugal GM 4 Star Review: Inked Adventures Crypts, Tombs, & Catacombs
There....I've laid out every wart I could find with this tile set, and with the exception of those connectors it's pretty minor stuff in my opinion. I love the look of the tiles, which with a product like this is easily 90% of the reason you want to pick it up in the first place. This tile set is normally $10, currently on sale for $7.50. Now I only printed up less than 1/2 of the pages and I think it is worthwhile just based on that. I doubt I'll ever make use of a full set of catacombs, but will probably use these as accent pieces for my other tile sets. Of course, once they are printed out you could do either!