Thursday, October 6, 2016

Building the Bestiary #8: Spell Effects

This time, instead of constructing monsters, I'm going to talk about spell effects that can be represented by LEGO miniatures. If you have a spellcaster, whether PC or NPC, who makes use of any of the spells that I mention here, it can greatly speed play to have appropriate miniatures prepared ahead of time rather than trying to improvise.

First, there are a few subjects that I want to mention briefly before we get to the techniques for building spell minis.

Areas of effect: Many spells affect an area, whether it's a circle, square, cone, line, sphere, or other shape. The rulebook contains all the information you need to determine how much space those spells affect on the battle map. Some gamers like to buy or build templates for these shapes--either a flat cutout or a wire frame--which can be laid down on the map to quickly determine what squares are affected. It's possible to do this with LEGO bricks, but they're not ideal for anything larger than a 10-foot square (6x6 studs). You could build the template's shape out of plates, but placing it on the board for any non-instantaneous spell might require moving several minis. It will also obscure the grid and terrain underneath it unless made out of transparent plates (which are very rare, at any size; I only own one over 4x4 studs).

Alternately, you could build a frame out of 1xN bricks or plates to mark the edges of the spell's effect. (See "Walls," below, for examples of how to build this.) A brick-built frame is likely to be fragile and to take up more storage space than you might expect. Also, bricks are larger and clumsier than wire, so your frame will take up more room on the board than a commercial wire frame would--and LEGO minis tend to be more tightly packed on the board than traditional minis anyway, so there will be less space to put down a brick-built frame. Given the cumbersome nature of these methods, I usually just draw the edges of the area of effect directly onto the battle map in my games.

Creature effects: For spells that create, summon, animate, or transform creatures, build a miniature to represent the the new creature or the target's new form. See my other installments in this series for the appropriate creature type. For spells that change size but not form, you can either build a copy of the character or creature at the new size, or simply put the normal mini onto a different size base.

Illusions: Illusions can take the form of creatures, objects, patterns of light, and a host of other things, so it's difficult to generalize about how to depict them on the battle map. For an illusory creature or object, use a miniature for that thing. For an invisible character whose location is known to the players, I find it handy to either place an empty base in its space or mark the mini in some way to show it's invisible. Use a part that is unusual enough to not be mistaken for part of the mini--for example, a pith helmet (from the Adventurer's theme) or a transparent bell jar on the character's head.

Now, on to spells that require other kinds of miniatures.


The LEGO GM, who I've mentioned in previous columns, keeps a set of hinged yellow brick walls on hand for anytime that a spellcaster casts a wall spell. The hinges let him shape the wall as needed, and the bright yellow color makes it obvious that it's a magic effect rather than normal dungeon wall. If you use this technique, build hinges into the wall every 3 or 6 studs, so that you can shape them in 5-foot and 10-foot increments, respectively.

A short wall provides better visibility on the map, so even if your spell makes a wall 20 feet high, a 3-brick-high model is plenty tall enough for game play. In fact, you can build a very versatile and compact wall model out of just 1x2 hinge plates. For each segment, connect two plates so that the hinges are at opposite ends. I prefer to make each segment out of two of the same connector, because it saves time matching segments together. When connected, each segment will constitute a 1" (5-foot) length, regardless of which direction the chain is bent. (You can use 1xN plates to makes these segments longer, if you wish.)  For wall spells shaped into rings or spheres, you can simply shape the chain into an arc, or bend it to follow the edges of squares like a wire-frame template.

You can add special effects to these walls by adding clip plates to the top studs. For example, you can make a wall of fire by clipping torch flames to each segment. For a blade barrier, attach swords or knives.

Wall of thorns is an exception to the usual wall shape in that it forms 10-foot cubes of briars. This can be represented by 6x6 plates for each 10-foot cube, or by using foliage pieces. Stacking two of the standard 6x5 foliage pieces together, with the pointed ends reversed, will cover a 2" square better than a single piece, and the single studs at the pointed ends can be used to connect a wall formed of 2"-long segments. If you attach the foliage vertically to a plate (like I did using "headlight" bricks in the photo), be sure to leave room in the center of your "cube" for the minis of anyone caught in or trying to pass through the wall of thorns.

Other Fire Effects

To represent a flame blade or produce fire spell, simply put a torch flame in the hand of the caster's mini. For continual flame, simply attach a flame to the target object (like the everburning torch in the equipment list).

For flaming sphere, stick a flame onto a small plate or radar dish for a base. If you have a 2x2 dome or cylinder brick in red or orange, you can use that, with or without a flame on top, to make a more spherical miniature. Best of all would be one of the transparent orange boulders from the new volcano-themed City sets (even though they are slightly over 1" diameter).

For faerie fire, the LEGO GM suggests attaching transparent neon radar dishes to the targets. If you have flame or plume pieces in unusual colors, such as blue or green, those could also work well. Use the same technique for fire shield (red or orange flames for the warm version, blue or green for the cold shield), or for characters who are simply on fire from a burn effect.


Many D&D and Pathfinder creatures can fly through using spells, innate magic, or mundane wings. This complicates combat because you need a way to keep track of its altitude as well as its position over the map. The easiest way to indicate that a creature is flying (or capable of it) is to build their mini with one or more clear transparent bricks holding them up from their base. If the creature is flying directly over other creatures, you may need to find another way to show this on the map.

[My regular group's preferred method is to use one of the clear plastic boxes used to package sets of polyhedral dice. Remove the lid, invert the box, and place the flying creature on top. This allows you to place the box over any ground-level creature directly below the flyer, and the box will be tall enough to fit over most minifigures and their accessories. However, these dice boxes are also about 1-1/2" square, which can make them awkward to place over a 1" grid, especially if flying over close-packed creatures. However, I've yet to find an easier and more stable method using LEGO bricks.]


The archmage Bigby and his hand-themed spells are a cherished part of D&D canon, though his name was removed in the d20 Open Game License and any games (like Pathfinder) derived from it. All of these spells create a 10-foot hand of force, so the same miniature can use used for all of them. The first model below is pretty simple: 1x1 and 1x2 bricks, 1x2 plates, and 1x1 cylinders and cones, all in transparent blue to show that it's a magic force effect.

The second model is articulated so that it can be posed differently for each spell: upright and flat for interposing hand and forceful hand, digits curled in for grasping hand or crushing hand, or balled up for clenched fist. Note that the clip on the base can attach to either the heel or the side of the palm, and that in grasping hand mode, the model can easily hold a minifigure. (Not pictured is Bigby's insulting gesture, a new cantrip from an April Fool's issue of Dragon magazine.)

Pathfinder has two other "hand" spells that are not part of this family. Helping hand simply creates a beckoning hand to lead the target to the caster; this needs no miniature. Spectral hand allows a sorcerer or wizard to cast touch spells at a distance, so a miniature can be useful for indicating who the target is, and how far the hand can move each round. The photo to the left shows a number of ways to build a spectral hand mini.

Other Force Effects

Mage armor and shield are both invisible force effects on a character, so don't need to be represented on a miniature. However, a wizard who makes heavy use of them may want to indicate that using transparent parts, such as a radar dish attached to a hand as a shield. (See the photo at the top of the page for a force mage using transparent blue breastplate, shield, and chi bricks from the Legends of Chima theme.) The most recent Doctor Strange and Avengers sets contain a new part to make it easier for Strange and Scarlet Witch to hold their spell-shields.

Mage's sword and spiritual weapon can be represented by attaching a weapon to a base, as shown at right. If your weapon is built with a lightsaber hilt, then it can't attach to a stud, so use the "anti-stud" on the bottom of a 2x2 tile instead (using a tile rather than a plate gives a flat, stable base).

For a floating disk spell, you can use a 2x2 round plate or tile, or just use a mini for whatever object or container that the disk is carrying. For a more elaborate miniature, use a clear brick to raise the disk above the base. A smooth tile for the disk looks better by itself, but a plate with at least one stud will make attaching the cargo easier.

For resilient sphere and telekinetic sphere, transparent round cockpits or cylinders of the right size (6x6) are difficult to find, but you can use a round plate or radar dish to show where the spell is located. For forcecage, the simplest build that I've found involves linking 1" x 2" ladder parts using the clips on one end. For the barred version, use two ladders per side; for the windowless cell, use one per side. You can also use the gelatinous cube build from the last "Building the Bestiary" installment for the sphere spells and for the smaller, windowless version of forcecage.

Obstacle Courses

Black tentacles, entangle, and web all work by filling an area with some sort of obstacle that impedes movement by grappling or entangling anyone in the area of effect. Use whatever method you prefer for marking a large area of effect. Because each victim's entangled or grappled status can change from round to round, you will need some sort of way to track that status. If you have net, chain, or rope pieces, drape them over characters who are entangled or grappled. Remove the prop if the creature breaks free--but keep those parts handy for the all-too-likely possibility that they get stuck again before they can exit the area of effect.

And finally,

A Place to Rest at the End of the Day

Tiny hut creates a opaque but permeable sphere of force. You only need to mark the circumference of the spell, as with any large area of effect.

Rope trick and mage's magnificent mansion both create extradimensional refuges, and the caster may choose any floor plan they wish for the latter spell. In most cases, you will only need to mark the portal to that space, not map the interior itself. 

Secure shelter creates a temporary 20-foot square cabin on the same plane. If your PC or NPC spellcaster makes frequent use of this spell, expect to run a combat involving it at some point. The simplest model is a 12x12 stud base (four 6x6 plates) with a row of 1xN bricks around the edge for walls, leaving gaps for the door and windows, and additional plates marking furniture and the fireplace. If you want a more impressive prop (which will thrill the caster's player!), build the walls higher, incorporate actual door and window pieces, build furniture to scale, and tile the floor in a checkboard pattern to preserve the 1" (3-stud) grid. Just keep in mind that the higher the walls are, the harder it will be to see the space inside and to move minis around in it--and that there is a lot of furniture for such a small space. But if you're feeling very ambitious, consider adding a removable roof, too, so that any enemies trying to break in through the chimney grate have a place to stand.

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