I'm creating an accessory for miniatures used in RPGs. One of the drawbacks of miniatures in fantasy gaming is that they're typically limited to just two dimensions. When characters might be fighting a magic carpet duel or diving to stab the kraken in its silly little beak, the action tends to be a little flat on the table.
What I am making will allow players to snap together a few pillars and add platforms to place their figurines at the proper height. It needs to be simple, stable, and strong enough to support both the pewter and plastic miniatures common at gaming tables without disrupting the flow of game when it gets changed.
The Process So Far
It started in late October when I was trying to find some miniatures at a specific scale for a campaign I was developing. That's when I learned there isn't an industry standard for how to measure the figures when listing sizes. I began wondering how I might be certain of the sizes and how I could use existing miniatures in three dimensions. I decided after some looking that I would have to take matters into my own hands for at least one of these issues.
That line of research led me over to MakerBot. After playing with their software long enough to get a feel for it and estimate the difference in print times for the various models, I contacted the company for a quote. One of their representatives took the time to put together several quotes, as well as give me pointers on how often parts might need to be replaced and when said quotes would expire.
With that information in hand, I began creating a budget for this project and practicing with Blender, an open source 3D modeling software. I made digital models of the stacking sets I had envisioned, and began troubleshooting using both the MakerBot software and native features in Blender. After some initial confusion over the scale was cleared up, I finally had files fit for prototyping.
That's right about when the holiday season kicked up. I put my gaming things on hold and spent time with family and friends.
This project is to produce interlocking platform sets I call 3stanDs, mostly as an affront to the English language, but also to look trendy. Each nine piece set will include one base, two platforms, and six 1"/2.54 cm elevation pieces, which will be engineered to support most 1:60 scale miniatures. The intent is to be a visual aid for miniature combats in three dimensions.
I want people to have these. The entire reason they exist even in theory is to help friends play games together. As I said earlier, this is something I felt I needed to do myself if it was ever going to be done. That doesn't mean I need to do it alone. Here's what I have planned so far.
Percentages for the original $9,000 goal.
The Replicator itself is the highest expense, but of the options out there, it works out to the best balance of speed, printing area, and cost to let me deliver the final product as rapidly as possible. The Smart Extruders are listed separately on invoice, so I've mirrored that here despite them being required for the Replicator to print anything. The glow-in-the-dark and regular filaments are likewise part and parcel to the actual printing. The plate tape isn't strictly speaking required, but it helps avoid deformation in the print process and is a marginal expense.
Outside of those direct expenses, shipping (which includes having things shipped to me) is the most expensive item on the list. This analysis assumes that every non-limited reward chosen will be a single stack going to a distinct address; effectively the most expensive shipping we could expect to see. The actual cost of shipping materials is listed separately because they are relatively inexpensive compared to the shipping itself. Regardless of size, orders to the USA ship for FREE, and orders anywhere else in the world just add $2 US to the pledge.
MakerClub is a subscription service for ordering the filament at a discount and with free shipping. Even at the most conservative estimates of a successful project, we always come out ahead using it. Additionally, the MakerBot Protection Plan is essentially part insurance: should any part fail, it will be replaced free of charge. While it is a rather large portion of our goal, it is very important for my peace of mind about being able to fulfill rewards long term.
The Specials line is specifically the Early Bird, Morning Star, and Lark reward tiers. By themselves, they do not quite cover their own cost. That's why they are limited, and accounting for it ahead of time means the project can complete without it becoming an issue down the road. The Kickstarter and Amazon collection fees are also included (and estimated high for Amazon).
Last but not least is the Miscellaneous line. This offset exists for two reasons. First was to make the total a nice round number to make estimating fees much simpler. The second reason, undeniably more important, is to help offset expenses that I can't quite calculate ahead of time. The big one is electricity. Even if I could only run at off-peak hours, I still expect it to be running the Replicator for over 1400 hours just in the fulfillment phase, let alone polishing the actual process and working out any late-stage kinks in the design. This offset provides a small buffer for this type of incidental expense that can't be avoided, as well as covering rewards that get lost in the mail or arrive damaged.
Prototypes (updated Feb. 15)
So the initial prototype in the video had some pretty obvious flaws once I got it in my hands, but there were also a couple that weren't so obvious at first glance. The most obvious one was being too short, both in terms of overall height past the first stack and in the length of the base. It was too short and too unstable.
The base sits fine with just the stack and platform, but it has to support miniatures. To that end, I grabbed a few for weight testing:
Yes, that's not actually a miniature, but if the final design can hold it, it can probably hold pretty much any miniature you can bring out.
The only weight test the original design could pass was the plastic miniature, and only if it was balanced closer to the center than actually on the platform.
So in the next prototype, I've reworked the base and the stack to the proper heights, and adjusted the bottom of the base for more stability (two types of base are being tested in the next batch, actually; one with a solid base and another with cut out to see if we can save costs). There will likely be at least one more iteration following that, as the 'arms' of the stacks are probably longer than they need to be.
The Process Going Forward
Once the project has funded, I'll have to order supplies. I expect to have everything by mid-April, though certain items aren't guaranteed to ship within a certain time frame. If I find out about delays, there will be an update to let everyone know.
From receiving, I'll move into a polishing phase, which I expect to last at least two weeks. I need to familiarize myself with the actual printing process, as well as run tests to determine and tweak how much weight it can support at each height before collapsing. Once those are done, I can publish the information as a guide to what kind of figurine weights can be supported.
Once I'm satisfied that I can't improve the design further, two things will happen. I'll begin sending out backer surveys to get shipping addresses and color preferences; shipping will likely be weekly as I get through the orders. Additionally, I'll be sending out an update with a download link for the .stl and .thing files for anyone who wants to print their own, and they will be on some level free to distribute (in all likelihood under one of the Creative Commons licenses).
Let's talk color. I've been agonizing over this off and on since I first started seriously considering this project. There are more than 30 filament color options (see them all here) from MakerBot. In addition to the limited glow-in-the-dark, the various colors that I will definitely be offering are white, black, red, green, and blue of the True Color filaments.
If there is enough interest (at least 14 sets of a given color) once the backer surveys come back, I'll order any of the True Color filaments, or any the Limited filaments except Photochromatic. Yes, the Photochromatic and Specialty filaments are very pretty, but they don't work well with the minimum budget.
- $10,000 - Now the Photochromatic and most Specialty filaments work with the budget! Aside from the glow-in-the-dark filament, now any filament can be selected as long as it meets the minimum interest level!
- $15,000 - Even the glow-in-the-dark filament can be selected! Anyone who selected the Morning Star or Day Star reward levels will get an additional glow-in-the-dark set for free, to keep those levels special!
- $20,000 - Miniatures for everyone! An unpainted 1:60 scale ninja figurine in a random color for every backer who gets at least one set! Why a ninja? Because I can!
- $30,000 - The minimum interest level for new colors? Eliminated! The full range of colors will be available!
- $50,000 - ????
- $100,000 - Sweet unmerciful Cthulhu, what have I wrought?
Kicking It Forward
I've been on Kickstarter for quite some time. I've supported 32 successful projects so far, and I'm always looking for new ones that strike my fancy. So here's my pledge to keep that up: I'm going to take 5% of whatever profit might be made from this project and funnel it back into our community here. Read about the concept and the gentleman behind it here: KickingItForward.org
Other Ways to Help
Want to help instead of (or perhaps beyond) pledging? Here's a few suggestions:
- Host the files to make them more available after the project funds. (Why, yes, I did start with the one that assumes I'll succeed. Fancy that.)
- Fill out this short survey to help me gauge interest and get some valuable feedback.
- Spread the word! Mention it to your group or other members of the gaming community.
Risks and challenges
The primary potential setback I foresee will be time management. I have a full time job, and although we recently managed to schedule more help, it still doesn't leave much time for the polishing phase that needs to happen before full production, and the production phase itself may require extending if we go well above the goal. The stretch goals may add another layer of uncertainty, as I don't have the completed ninja model yet with which to estimate print times. To address this, I've padded the delivery estimate by assuming after one month of receiving, polishing, and testing, I'll get one full print run (seven sets of one color) per day at the maximum number of sets I would expect to see at the original goal. In reality, each print run should take about 19 hours, so I can manage to pack an extra print run every four days or so. I can pack up the printed sets in the morning for shipping, and take them to the post office in bulk on my days off. Since the ninja is a single item instead of a set of nine, I should be able to do the same process, and also print out 64 per run, so I don't anticipate exceptional delays should we hit that level.
As a corollary to this one, a successful Kickstarter project always runs the risk of having to produce many more rewards than originally anticipated. That said, I've run the numbers on where the cost to get an additional printer to increase the printing rate would be feasible to keep to the delivery goal. If we get close, I'll start inquiries with MakerBot about ordering more.
The next largest difficulty will be breaking down the backer survey information. I've never been on this side of the project, so I don't know how easy it is to organize the data. Fortunately, I'm handy with spreadsheets, and you guys will be doing most of the actual work by filling them out. I'll need to do this before placing the final filament order, so that I know how many prints of each color I need to make, but a quick glance can tell me which colors I can use for both test runs and the finished products. Also, the filament order color codes my results, so in the end, it should actually make shipping easier.
Then there will be cleaning and shipping itself. The prints will likely have supports or rafts which will need to be removed prior to shipping. They interfere with the pieces fitting together and harm the aesthetic, either of which would be enough reason for me to make sure they're gone. Fortunately, I have a couple of friends who have already offered to help, so that shouldn't take too much time. After that, shipping is just going to be a cardboard mailer and some packing material, and the rewards will be on their way to you!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)