Monday, February 13, 2012

Episode 1: Shattered Mirror Prop

Naked cardboard "mirror shards"
Sure, roleplaying games are ultimately all about using your imagination, but who doesn't like toys? I always try to have some sort of elaborate handout, prop, or mini-game included in my session, be it a tangible puzzle, a dossier on the case, the meal set out at the dinner party, or--in this case--an accursed mirror with thirteen shards of glass.

There was a moment when I was planning this where I was wondering if I could reliably cut or shatter glass into the number of pieces I needed. My persistent desire to stay out of the emergency room soundly squelched that plan. (Not to mention the fact that, as I'd like to run more adventures in this Erratic Episodes series, the stories out of my first players' mouths probably shouldn't involve phrases like: "blood all over my character sheet" or "had to stop early to get twenty stitches.") So I opted for a handout not made entirely out of sharp. Rather...

The Shattered Mirror was made of and using:
* 1 3'-by-3' piece of cardboard
* 13 strong magnets (preferably flat strips; available from the grocery or hobby store)
* 1 roll of tin foil
* 1 roll of clear tape
* 1 pencil
* 1 ruler
* 1 large circular object or pot
* 1 tube of super glue
* 1 box cutter
* 1 white board (magnetic)
* 1 collapsible easel (available from office supply store)
* 1 dry erase marker

Let me manage some expectations right off the bat. This is a simple project and the end result (as you can see from the pictures) is hardly a convincing replica of the magic-scarred standing mirror detailed in A Light in the Belfry. Rather, this is a shiny puzzle. In the adventure, the PCs are tasked with finding thirteen magic glass shards and restoring this broken mirror. As they go around the haunted house, they find the shards and restore them to the mirror frame. This prop gives the players a tangible reward every time they achieve one of the adventure's objectives, and makes putting the mirror shards into the frame its own little game.

To start with, I decided on the shape and measurements of my mirror. These measurements depended on the size of the white board I was using, which would essentially serve as the frame for the shards to go into. Once deciding on an ovular shape, I traced that on my cardboard. Tracing my biggest cooking pot on the cardboard with a pencil gave me the curve I wanted for the top of the mirror, then tracing the pot again below and connecting the sides at their broadest points resulted in a outline for the completed mirror. Using the box cutter, I cut out the shape. Before going any farther, trace this shape onto your whiteboard using a dry erase marker.

Next, I used the ruler to trace the outlines of the shards themselves. Remember, you want to create the look of broken glass, so you want angular pieces, but not necessarily even, symmetrical, or regular looking shards (do an image search for "broken mirror" or "broken glass" for ideas). I'd suggest not making these too elaborate, as you'll have to wrap aluminum foil around each of these and the more curves and corners you make will make applying the foil convincingly more difficult. Eventually, with my shapes traced out, I used the box cutter to cut out my thirteen shards.

Covered in foil
Now that I had thirteen cardboard shards, it was time to turn them into glass shards. Painting might have been an option, but I doubted I could get the sheen and glossy texture I wanted, so I went with aluminum foil. Although I didn't do this, I would HIGHLY suggest marking on the cardboard which side is the up side and which is the down side. This will be important later when you're trying to piece the mirror back together. Additionally, you'll want to have the up side smooth, creating a nearly mirror like effect, while the down side can have all the wrinkles and cinches of the foil. Tear off a piece of foil about double the size of the shard you're trying to cover and lay the shard, with the up side facing down on the foil. Carefully fold the sides of the foil around the shard. You can pinch and wrinkle the foil on the back of the shard as much as you want (the players won't see this once its in the mirror), but try to keep the foil on the front smooth like a mirror's surface. Folding the foil around the cardboard can be tricky, as the foil tears if you try to bend it around too many corners--or sometimes for no good reason. Additionally, you might just have to accept that you'll lose some of the sharpness of your shards' angles by covering them in foil, sometimes curving the foil along corners is the only way to cover a piece without tearing the foil. Don't worry too much about this, though, as the shards will still piece together nicely. Once you've got a shard wrapped in a way you're pleased, tape down the foil on the back to keep it from sliding or falling off. Do this with all of the shards.

Finally, glue magnets to the back of each shard (making sure you're leaving the side that will magnetically stick to the whiteboard face up). Once the glue on these dry you've got your thirteen magnetic shards. As you don't want to ding the foil surfaces, be relatively delicate with these, and don't worry too much if the magnets cause them to stick together (just separate them with care when you need them). I kept mine in a cloth bag and they held their shape and sheen just fine.

My simple spooky frame
Now that I had my shards, I got back to the mirror frame. I'd already drawn the outline of the shards onto the whiteboard, this would be the board the players would later have to place the puzzle pieces of the shard into. As adding foil to the cardboard--and inevitable gaps--causes the assembled shards to take up more room then they did when they were one piece, you might want to trace the shape you already have on your board again, about a 1/4 inch larger all the way around. After that, your adding decoration with your dry erase marker, making the mirror's stand as ornate and macabre as you can manage. Since you're working with a dry erase marker, prone to smearing, I'd suggest working on the left side first and working to the right (or vice versa if you're left handed). When you're done drawing, prop your white board up on the easel and you're ready to start piecing back in the missing shards

So that's how I did it, but there's totally room for improvements and customizations.

Pre-Solved Puzzle: If you don't want your players spending lots of time trying to arrange and reorganize the puzzle pieces to fit into the frame, you might want to trace out the shards directly onto the frame--that way they know right where each piece belongs.

Ghost Glass: I wasn't bold enough to try this with mine, but I'd be interested in seeing the effects of silver paint on aluminum foil. If the foil holds the paint and you can see the paint clearly, you might be able to add eerie swirls and ghostly faces to the shards. Again, I haven't tried this, but there might be something there.

Permanent Prop: I drew my mirror frame on a whiteboard entirely because that was a surface I could work on that was magnetic that I had. The down side is that whiteboards and dry erase markers are designed to be erased, and easily. It was a small miracle that in the two months between sessions the image didn't get smeared, and after our second session the picture was pretty dinged up. With the addition of more magnets, you could probably create a more permanent mirror frame out of cardboard, foam core, or similar materials. With powerful enough magnets, you could probably even apply them to the back of a cardboard width material, retaining the unmarred surface you'll want your players to see.

So this method got me a mirror for A Light in the Belfry, but you can use this for nearly any game where the PCs are chasing a multi-part Macguffin. With a few alterations, you could create a mosaic with stones that need to be replaced in particular spots, a puzzle lock with pieces that need to be arranged in some special order (maybe even buidling the pieces to go onto the magnetic board like oversized Tangos); or a more traditional puzzle where the pieces reveal some image, message, or clue. This might even make a neat method to keep track of the titular goal of the upcoming Shattered Star Adventure Path.

There's tons of options here, so go crazy. I had a lot of fun building this, loved seeing the look on my players' faces when I whipped out the mirror, loved it even more when I got to hand them their first shard, and they seemed to really enjoy figuring out exactly how every fragment fit into the greater puzzle. Here's hoping you have a blast if you use a method like this in your own game. Also, artsy GMs should also be sure to post any ideas, suggestions, and successes they might have in the comments field below. Best of luck!

No comments:

Post a Comment