Gaming Sailing Ships

By John Eckelkamp

For my D&D campaign, my players are about to have a series of encounters aboard a sailing ship. I wanted to whip up something a bit more dramatic than just some standard flat maps of ship decks.

To that end I decided to build some quick 3-D sailing ships in a 1-inch grid (the playing surface used by both my campaigns’ gaming systems). These ships are to be representational rather than realistic. The idea is to give the impression of a square-rigged sailing ship while maximizing playability. I want them to be able to have all the fun of swashbuckling pirate movies without trying to fit their hands and figures between the hundreds of lines of realistic rigging. For more on this project, including detailed start to finish photos, see the original forum post at


Taping my templates on top of the foam, I cut them out with my Hot Wire Scroll Table. My bows and sterns have stepped platforms. After cutting out the shapes, I needed to create even steps. I made adjustable templates from poster board and taped them to the sides of my pieces, before using the Hot Wire Scroll Table to cut them out. These were then glued down in place.Model_MG_johne_c01 Model_MG_johne_c02I then printed out some wood flooring textures onto cardstock and used double-sided tape to apply it to the surfaces of my ships. I used a sharpie marker to lay out the basic 1-inch grid to aid placement and to serve as our “battlemat”. Before applying the paper textures, I hit all the edges with some black paint so that any gaps would be less noticeable.Model_MG_johne_c03Since I plan for the players to be able to swing from the rigging and have dramatic duels while balanced on the yard arms, I wanted to make sure my ships do not turn over during play. Using my Hot Wire Long Engraver, I melted hollows into the bottoms of my ships and then hot glued magnets into the holes so that they were flush with the foam bases. The magnets are strong enough to hold up my ships even when the board is hung vertically (a fact I used later to my advantage when avoiding drips onto my printed textures).Model_MG_johne_c04

Once the sails were finished, I glued them under the yards with hot glue. (I used hot glue in lots of places instead of PVA glue or other adhesives for speed and strength. One of the benefits of making an impressionistic ship rather than a realistically detailed model is that I do not have to sweat the fine details.) There are clear strips of rigid plastic on top of the yards to give a stable playing surface for the miniatures. The thin clear strips do not detract too much from the spirit of the ship, and sight of figures dueling it out high above the decks looks really cool.

Foam Gaming D&D Sailing Ships