The DND 5e campaign that I am about to start had need of a boat. I looked everywhere for boats that were compatible with 28mm figurines, and weren’t over $100. Finally, after being stymied, I found a scale model of the HMS Victory by CubicFun 3d Puzzles on Amazon for less than $30. While I didn’t need a ship as large as the Victory, the size of the model was perfect, and so I knew that with some modifications I could make it work. There would be a lot of things that would need to change about this model, not the least of which is that it’s a three-masted, five deck, 104 gun, first rate (or Superdreadnaught) and I was designing a much smaller, two deck, two-mast caravel. The masts wouldn’t be perfect, but I could make do with the full rigging by cutting out one of the masts, and emphasizing the lateen rig. This would leave much of the sterncastle empty, so I figured this would be the perfect place for a ballista.
I started by just diving into the frame of the body of the model first. This included the shape of the sterncastle, and several features on the deck of the ship, such as lifeboats and hatches. This really made the scale issue apparent, so before I got too much further into the construction, I wanted to start my modifications; doing them later would have meant to negotiate around the masts and deck components, so this made the most sense. I also needed to know how the thin ,laminated foamcore of the model would take to paint, because the decoration was going to be totally wrong otherwise. Paint tests on the scrap confirmed that a 50-50 mixture of black and Modgepodge would be just fine.
I will say that this first bit of fabrication was a real heart breaker. For one, this model is GORGEOUS, to the point that I might buy one, or another from the line, just to have. For two, this first bit of the model probably was about 6 hours of build time already. This model is no joke, and to start cutting it up was tough. But, I got over it.
Because I was not going to mount the rear mast, the first bit of fabrication came up. I needed to cover up the elements on the sterncastle, otherwise they would sick out when the model was complete. I also needed a firmer base for the ballista which was eventually going to sit on the back of the boat. I primed the body black with the modgepodge mixture, thinking that I was eventually going to add wood planking to it. Then, using quarter inch foamcore, I filled in the rear deck up to the railings to make the entire area flat. This was scored with a wire brush for texture, primed black, and highlighted with a brain stain. It didn’t come out looking as much like wood as I would have liked, but it would do the job.
I also started with the 3-d printing at this stage also, because I needed some components which just weren’t in the model to being with. Stairs to the stern ballista deck, stairs into the cargo hold / sleeping area on the interior, and the wheel of the boat would all be necessary. Plus the ballista itself, but that would come later. After getting the scale on the stairs correct, I cut away a portion of the maindeck with the lifeboats, and primed the inside area with the black mixture. Painted the stair sets and, and hotglued them into place. With the body of the boat dried, and the black of the hull looking really sharp, I decided against wood planking, and adorned the rear of the ship with the call sign.
With the main shape of the ship done, next were the masts. I built all three, not knowing if I was going to use the rear one or not at this point. I could have cut through the foamcore to get to the anchor holes for that mast, but ultimately, it would have been too much and I would have had to sacrifice on the look of the ballista. That was going to be really important, the ship that I was modeling this off had two ballistas, actually, but given the scale, one was the right call.
I can not adequately express how hard putting the sails and masts together was. Holy. Crap. By the time I was done, my fabrication time was probably over 10 hours, and closer to 15. I don’t know, I lost track. A lot of that was getting the sizing of the stairs correct, but while they would print in one or two hour sprints, I would be putting together masts. They are finicking right up until you put the last piece in to lock it all together. No me gusta.
It was at this point that I came to a conclusion about the foamcore rigging on these masts. For one, there was A LOT of it, so placing figs on the boat would be really problematic. The model is not particularly robust without glue, or at least not as robust as I need it to be, and that’s a separate concern. But at the end of the day, it just didn’t look right, so I decided to remove the netting pieces altogether, and replace the vertical ropes with actual jute twine rigging. This was the first moment that I looked at the boat and realized that it was coming out almost exactly the way that I wanted it to.
Finally was the ballista. I used the resin printer to make the model. It came in three pieces, so I put them together, glued them in place and then let them sit to cure. I honestly forget to get pictures of it before attaching it to the boat after painting it, but I thought it came out pretty awesome.
So how did this build go? Well, I was into it for probably 20 hours, not including print time for the components that I had to make. That’s a lot of time, it’s longer than you think. How much did I save? If you don’t count the printer in the math, I did this for about half of what the pre-made DND scale ships for retail. But if you don’t have the printer, it would be more because you would have to precure the pieces. Was it worth it? Yeah I think so, because I was able to get exactly the boat that I wanted and saved money doing it. I learned a lot through the process of building it, and I am really glad that I did the paint tests before ruining the model. For example, the modgepodge mixture as a much brigher shine on the hull, as opposed to straight black paint which is more matte. There were places I went back over to touch up, and the sheen was totally different.
I also reluctantly started applying glue to some of the weaker tab-in-slot joints. That’s honestly my biggest worry, the model is pretty fragile. It’s going to have to survive transporting and active use at the table, so how is it going to hold up? I also tried crafting a better stand for it than the display stand that came with it, but that was an unmitigated failure, so I scrapped it. Still might try to find a way to swing that.
But I will let you know how it comes out at the first session!