The Grindhouse Arena (LOTS OF PICTURES! Slow bandwidths, beware!)

UselessTriviaMan
UselessTriviaMan
edited May 2015 in General Discussion
It began about four years ago with a doodle on a piece of graph paper during a ridiculously boring weekly sales meeting. I'd been thinking about running a convention game for a while, and I remembered how much fun I'd had playing in a convention grand melee game I'd participated in about twenty years ago.

I mulled over that initial design for a few weeks (I think I actually improved on it in later sales meetings). The concept: What if I built an arena with actual moving parts? Say, concentric rings around a central tower, and each ring would actually _move?_ I thought it would be a pretty cool thing, if I could figure out how to make it work. I knew I'd probably want to make it out of something really solid; cardboard or paper wouldn't hold up well enough, so I chose plywood. It's easy to work with, and I have full access to dad's garage woodworking shop. And there'd be a central tower...

I knew early on that if I did this, it would have to be for something more than a home campaign; "I've made elaborate maps before":http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Campaign%202009-2011/184389_204598926220158_100000101555523_871148_6131305_n.jpg but nothing on THIS scale. No, something this big would have to be for a convention game. Maybe... an annual event, even??

Eventually, this all jelled into an actual rough blueprint. I discussed it with my (completely non-gamer) dad, explained what I was essentially trying to do, and used his input to help me make this:

!http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/08-14-11Grindhouse016.jpg!

(Of course, UTM Jr. had to help test it out. A lot.)

Two layers of plywood for the base, and the rings were all cut out of the top layer. They're just lying in place, with nothing to hold them in or help them move. Yet.

I had a specific idea about how to construct the tower so character figures could actually climb the sides: I have numerous tackle boxes, and I realized that the little flat plastic dividers would work great for wedging into the cuts I'd made in the tower to represent the ladders on all four sides:

!http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/08-14-11Grindhouse023.jpg!

UTM Jr had to help again:

!http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/08-14-11Grindhouse024.jpg!

So the wood was cut; it was now time to start painting. I first covered everything in black primer, then wound string around the base, forming one-inch squares:

!http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/018.jpg!

Then I added a liberal coat of that stony-texture paint (the exact name escapes me at the moment), and after it dried I peeled off all the string, neatly leaving the whole thing covered in one-inch squares. A black sharpie was used to touch up anywhere that the black lines were a bit light.

The rings were much trickier; it wasn't hard to wrap the string around them in (roughly) one-inch intervals, but each ring is three inches across. I had to get creative to get those two middle circular lines on each ring - I hand-drew those lines in pencil, then used a lot of rubber cement to glue down string onto the line for each circle. Once these were sufficiently accurate and fully dry, I then wrapped the rest of the strings around to complete the grids on each ring. It was time-consuming, but it worked out pretty well. And again, after the paint dried the strings peeled right off, leaving reasonably-close renderings of one-inch squares:

!http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/almostfinished.jpg!

Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

"Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

Comments

  • UselessTriviaMan
    UselessTriviaMan
    Posts: 447
    As for the shiny bits, I came up with a plan for two squat metal posts to be on opposite sides of each ring (see above). These would be both functional and game-related; they're handles for turning the rings, and in-game they're magical trap generators. I drilled holes, and added a bit of hardware I picked up from my local hardware store:

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/HandleHardware.gif!

    I painted the caps metallic red and blue (red for fireball generators, blue for lightning generators).

    And here's what it looks like with the tower in place (note the case of minis to the side - those were all the available gladiators the players could choose from):

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/happytoseeme.jpg!

    Somewhere early in the process of dreaming up and making this beastie, I saw a video clip of "an industrial shredder":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJzG7CSYg3U&feature=related and I was impressed enough that I decided some very enthusiastic gnomish/dwarvish engineers built a monumental stone shredder under this arena. If anyone falls through a trap door in the floor they'd get turned into a cloud of fine red mist in mere seconds. Thus, the name. I swear, it had nothing at ALL to do with any Tarantino flicks or basketball venues. Honest.

    I made a simple black-and-gray pattern that kinda resembled the shredder cylinders and printed 'em out on 3x5 cards, then cut them to size to represent the pits. (I did discover though that the heavy amounts of ink on those cards made them curl up; next time I'll use heavier card stock.) I wanted the trap doors to be completely random, but in early playtests we decided to streamline things a bit by pre-rolling the random trap doors. (The little red and yellow numbers on the rings were added so the GM could count spaces more easily.)

    I found green glass gemstones at a local Hobby Lobby, and scooped 'em up to use as treasure chest "loot generators." (Gladiators that reach into a gem find two magic items, but they're only allowed to take one of them. The other stays in place, and a PC can't reach back into a gem until after someone else takes an item from that generator.) Rubber cement holds them in place.

    And finally, I used "Bendy Walls":http://www.dark-platypus.com/product/bendy-dungeon-walls-basic/ to create the various walls throughout the arena, and again used rubber cement to temporarily glue them into place.

    Here's a few shots of the finished product, being played at XenoCon a couple of years ago (with hover text descriptions):

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse%20Photos/166031_10200123765561421_813738264_n_zpsdsctan8n.jpg(The players begin to gather. It's almost time!)!

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse%20Photos/969052_10200123765961431_1181797016_n_zpsq3neqkhf.jpg(An early-round shot of the action.)!

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse%20Photos/923292_10200123767481469_1599106147_n_zpsmw9zaq94.jpg(In this one, the GM -GrindMaster- is using The String™ to determine who gets blown up.)!

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse%20Photos/972131_10200123769241513_1730273975_n_zpswnuxnsh9.jpg(Two gladiators vying for the top of the central tower.)!

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse%20Photos/969037_10200123765001407_1630821588_n_zps3psdqtbb.jpg(To simulate the constant rotation of the floor rings, they were moved twice each combat round. Everybody helped. Except Dan. But he's just like that.)!

    "More photos here":http://smg.photobucket.com/user/UselessTriviaMan/library/Grindhouse%20Photos?sort=3&page=1 "and here":https://www.facebook.com/bryan.nash/media_set?set=a.10201807779300712.1369016695&type=3 if you want to see more...

    Also, note that the inner ring of wall actually has two layers - entries into the center would periodically get blocked, forcing players to find alternate routes or risk standing still...

    And that's the story of the house that UTM built. Next post, I'll go into the creation of 75 gladiator PCs, and how I wound up using over 2500 3x5 cards...

    I've now hosted this event twice a year at local conventions ("XenoCon":http://xenocon.weebly.com/ and "Gamicon":http://www.gamicon.org/index2.php for the last three years. Players keep coming back for more, so I'm apparently doing something right... ;-)

    Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

    "Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

  • ketherian
    ketherian
    Posts: 203
    That's an incredible 3D Map. I'd call it a prop, but really it's too big for that.
    Other than bragging rights, does the winner get a cardboard crown or something?
  • NikMak
    NikMak
    Posts: 379
    thats dedication to the cause! :)

    what system where you using?
  • Bortas
    Bortas
    Posts: 645
    I love it, that's fantastic! Show us more!

    -bort
    "Morwindl":https://morwindl.obsidianportal.com
  • MachineGunHarry
    MachineGunHarry
    Posts: 114
    That's awesome!
  • Maesenko
    Maesenko
    Posts: 325
    Bears fan, Crown Royal [dice]bag, and you're relatively close to me (as far as the people I know on OP goes).

    It definitely looks interesting, and I can tell it was made with quality. Have you considered motorizing the rings at all?

    ~Mae

    CotM Selection Committee

  • UselessTriviaMan
    UselessTriviaMan
    Posts: 447
    Thanks guys, I'm kinda proud of this thing.

    *The Grindhouse PCs:*
    I've collected a pretty big pile of the plastic DDM pre-painted figures, and I realized they'd be perfect for this event. I based my PCs on the miniatures, and each character figure determined its gladiator's race, equipment, etc.

    For example, the first year's grand champion was the half-orc paladin:
    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Half%20Orc%20Paladin_zpsgeemdure.jpg!
    _(image totally belongs to WotC)_

    Obviously, this particular guy was decked out with full plate armor and heavy steel shield, and his primary weapon was a longsword.

    I used Excel to make the character sheets (and to make my life a bit easier). Each class had its own template, but the overall character sheets were all laid out the same:

    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/GrindhousePCexample.jpg!
    _(Everything below/to the right of the red line didn't appear on the character sheets. And as grand champion, Gulg the Fearless won't return. All grand champion PCs are retired.)_

    I cut 'n paste, and use formulas as much as possible, and try my best to make these character sheets as user-friendly as possible. I think it works pretty well; color-coding makes it really easy to direct the players to the relevant section when they need to look up anything. And it's really easy to include character pictures for each PC...

    To help manage all the stuff these PCs are carrying, I swiped something I'd seen decades ago in a convention game - all items, ammo, spells, and xx-per-day abilities are printed out on 3x5 cards. I don't know exactly how many cards this took, but I estimate the final total was somewhere around 2500 cards. These are clipped to the character sheets, and the players get cheap pocket folders to put all these in so they don't get lost. For spellcasters, I printed up spell lists with all available spells for each caster class. (My intent was to set it up so that players would never have to crack a book at all.)

    Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

    "Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

  • UselessTriviaMan
    UselessTriviaMan
    Posts: 447
    My notes from the first-ever Grindhouse run:

    * Out of 56 available gladiator PCs, 20 of them appeared in the 7-1/2-hour battle.

    * In the playtests, the best we were ever able to accomplish was 20 combat rounds in four hours. We called it quits at the end of round 36, at the 7.5-hour mark.

    * At least six PC deaths were due to traps, both magical and mechanical.

    * As far as I can remember, I know we had at least five players who'd never touched Pathfinder or 3rd Edition D&D. I think they all had a good time. I hope.

    * Equipment List: 56 PC sheets, ~2500 3x5 cards, 20 pocket folders, 3 hanging-file boxes, 2 bottles of rubber cement, 1 box of pencils, about 6 dozen tiny bulldog clips, and 5 printer ink cartridges (3 black, 2 color).

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    The awards that are given out:

    * *Grand Champion* - awarded to whoever scored the most points as King of the Mountain (and the Grand Champion also receives a bona fide engraved trophy)

    * *Total Carnage Award* - awarded to the PC with the most kills

    * *Yellow-Bellied Diehard Award* - awarded to the PC who survived the longest

    * *Golden Lemming Award* - given out to the PC who got killed off the fastest

    * And finally, we gave out the *Golden Stork Award* to the PC with the most epic and spectacular Fail

    The very first Grand Champion cheesing with the GMs:
    !http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v310/UselessTriviaMan/Grindhouse/068-1.jpg!
    _(I'm the one in the Mario hat)_

    This guy totally earned it, too - he was the first player to show up for the Grindhouse, and he was the only one that stayed 'n played the entire time. He ended up winning three of the five awards!

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Now that I've got a pretty good number of convention events under my belt, I know that I tend to average five combat rounds per real-time hour. Considering that we have to stop to move the rings twice every combat round, I'm pretty happy with that.

    I've expanded the pool of gladiators, and I now have ~80 5th-level Pathfinder player character gladiators that I can field. I have to mix 'em up and re-skin the dead gladiators after each convention though; savvy repeat players try to grab favorites from previous years and replay 'em.

    I try to tweak things a bit every year. I've added more Bendy Walls to make navigating the rings more maze-like, and this year I added monstrous PC gladiators to the mix. Orcs, goblins, bugbears, gnolls, quaggoths and lizard men were rather popular. I may need to add even more next time; most of them were chosen in early rounds.

    Sometimes I have an assistant GM that helps keep things flowing smoothly, but I now often run the Grindhouse by myself. Keeping the table going is plenty hard enough, but someone has to help incoming players get set up with their characters, spells, etc., and an assistant GM really makes that easier. My buddy AzureTalon (pictured above in the Bathulhu shirt) helped me playtest and run the first-ever Grindhouse. He was awesome. Thanks, bud.

    I run the Grindhouse for eight hours every year at Gamicon, and for twelve hours at XenoCon. I wear very comfortable shoes and bring lots of caffeine. I _love_ providing players with a one-of-a-kind gaming experience - especially the never-gamed-before neophytes, which I have at every single convention - and showing them a fun, fast-paced, no-pressure slaughterhouse to play in.

    So that's pretty much it, guys. I hope you like it, and if you ever find yourself at an eastern Iowa convention you should definitely join in the action. I promise, it'll be over quick. ;-)

    Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

    "Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

  • UselessTriviaMan
    UselessTriviaMan
    Posts: 447 edited May 2015
    Funny you should ask, @Maesenko. I have been talking to an acquaintance with access to an industrial shop/playground, including a laser cutter and 3D printer. We've been discussing the possibility of making a Grindhouse 2.0 with plexiglass instead of wood, and motorizing the rings. And maybe also LEDs beneath the play surface.

    I'm WAY excited about this. I need to give that guy a call.

    And if you're at all interested, come out this way for "XenoCon":http://xenocon.weebly.com/ in October. It's a great time. Last year our Guest of Honor was Frank Mentzer, founder of the RPGA and old-school TSR guy. He was pretty damn cool. (And I've heard a rumor that he _might_ show up again this year!)
    Post edited by UselessTriviaMan on

    Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

    "Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

  • Maesenko
    Maesenko
    Posts: 325
    I'd be interested, but right now I'm planning on driving 3 hours east for GenCon, and I don't know if I could swing another con (3 hours west) in the same year, financially speaking.

    For now, though, I can appreciate the thought that I may see you there someday.

    ~Mae

    CotM Selection Committee

  • Bortas
    Bortas
    Posts: 645
    UTM: I love teching up my props... I make lots of use of LEDs (particular the fake fire ones). After looking at the grindhouse, my brain has been crunching on my own version.

    -bort
    "Morwindl":https://morwindl.obsidianportal.com
  • UselessTriviaMan
    UselessTriviaMan
    Posts: 447
    @Maesenko: Fair 'nuff, our little convention can't compete with the Geek Mecca that is Gen Con.

    @Bortas: Excellent! Steal away, amigo. I figured out a while back that this thing a hybrid crossbreeding, born from my love of both D&D and Battletech. It may use Pathfinder combat rules, but it's really a straight-up miniatures combat game.

    A clarification/explanation: I decided very early that all summoning, invisibility, and flying spells would be banished from the arena. These were all primarily for mechanical reasons:

    * It's already a massively confusing combat with eight PC gladiators, and it could quickly turn into a time-sink disaster with just a couple of summoning spells. That's why there are no druids anywhere in the game, and no summoning magics allowed for other casters. (There are also no bards, but that's more because I'm not a complete and total dick.) ;-)
    * Invisibility would be a logistical nightmare for this type of arena. Either the invisible character has a marker (in which case they aren't actually invisible to the other players, which would then require everyone to metagame their ignorance, which we all know wouldn't actually happen), or the player has to try to track their own movement with no marker on the board. That could also turn into a major problem, so I decided to simply disallow it.
    * Because of the 3D arena, it would also be a logistical nightmare to track flying movement.

    For my own sanity, I'd much rather keep the whole thing as simple as possible.

    The arena is located in the great city of Waterdeep, and the Grindhouse is an annual event that draws thousands of fans to the coliseum. The crowd wants to see the action, which justifies the banishment of all invisibility, wall of ____, and cloud/obscuring spells. Many of the gladiators are in the arena involuntarily, and any attempts to escape the arena will result in execution. With extreme prejudice.

    Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

    "Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

  • Abersade
    Abersade
    Posts: 183
    That's awesome. Also, 2500 3"x5" cards is... a lot.
  • killervp
    killervp
    Posts: 2,763
    This is absolutely awesome... me and my over 1000 page site here salute your effort!!
    killervp
    "A God...Rebuilt":https://a-god-rebuilt.obsidianportal.com
    "OP's COTM April 2012":http://blog.obsidianportal.com/a-god-rebuilt-aprils-cotm/
    Over 350 Fans, and Looking for More!

    Just trying to help out.

  • Unknown
    I can't lie, this is pretty darn slick and among the more interesting RPG items I have seen or encountered personally. As killervp said, kudos!

    --
    Alex
    "Dragon Age: Requiem":https://dragon-age-requiem.obsidianportal.com/
  • Savannah
    Savannah
    Posts: 188
    I've never had any desire to go to a gaming convention...until now.
  • UselessTriviaMan
    UselessTriviaMan
    Posts: 447
    Thank you @Savannah, that is *exactly* why I built this thing. :-)

    I wanted it to be more than just another game; I wanted this to be a convention-only Event that can draw in gamers to attend a really awesome game convention.

    Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

    "Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

  • UselessTriviaMan
    UselessTriviaMan
    Posts: 447

    And since I'm updating old posts, I'll add a link to the not-Photobucket images and description of this monstrosity. (I am unable to edit the original post above to fix those broken links.)

    I'm still running the Grindhouse Arena every year, but right now the only local convention is Gamicon in Cedar Rapids (Feb 28-March 1 2020). I'll be there Saturday the 29th from 10am-6pm for the Grindhouse's ninth year in a row.

    It's definitely worth the trip if you're anywhere in the region.


    Ptolus, City by the Spire - 2016 Campaign of the Year

    "Please pay attention very carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all your wildest dreams in life."  - - Kevin Smith

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