Dungeons & Dragons & 3D Printers


Role-playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder have long enjoyed legions of fans.  More recently, Netflix’s hit show “Stranger Things,” has also served to drum up interest, as Dungeons & Dragons serves as a major plot point. Some libraries have sought to capitalize on this interest by offering meetups/gaming sessions and by purchasing rule books. Even if your library doesn’t actively offer programs, you may have noticed a role playing group using your floor space or meeting rooms.

While some role playing groups simply utilize pencil and paper, many prefer to use miniatures to represent their characters and the various monsters/foes they encounter. Miniatures can be extremely pricey–some simply use paper stand-ins rather than shell out for costly pewter or plastic commercial options. For libraries in possession of a 3D printer, you have the potential to offer these patrons a dynamic service/program designing and printing tabletop miniatures.

Offer a Public Print Service:

Elf ranger schematic
Elf Ranger D&D miniature by MattDB

With 3D printer and a public print policy, you likely have an affordable alternative for those wishing to utilize tabletop miniatures. Existing schematics for game  pieces  abound at Thingiverse and other open-source 3D model repositories. In this scenario, you need only make these your gaming groups aware of the service. This could be as simple as a quick sales pitch when you see the group meeting. Alternatively, you could place a poster near where you house your games and/or rule books or go one step further and place a flyer inside them!

Offer Programs and Workshops:

While printing someone else’s model can provide value to the RPG crowd, teaching these patrons to design their own can be a truly rewarding experience! Every player has a unique character they’ve created in the game world. The crux of 3D printing is its ability to prototype inexpensively. Combine these two truths and you realize what a perfect partnership they form! Rather than rely on a stock file, which is effectively settling for something that looks like the character they’ve imagined, an original design allows for a far closer creative expression! Sensing this, some companies are offering custom 3D printed miniatures–at a significant cost.

TinkerCAD miniatures
Dungeon Delvers by Dutch Mogul. Designed in TinkerCAD

Free software that is up to the task abounds. At entry level, a course centered on TinkerCAD  can provide an effective tool for creating miniatures. If you or your patrons have access to an iPad or Android tablet, 123D Scultpt+ is excellent for creating characters and creatures. More confident designers can utilize Blender (Mac, Windows, Linux). When designing, plan on printing scaled to 25 or 28 mm, which is the standard size in most tabletop RPGs.

3-D printed and painted "female knight" by Stockto
3D printed and painted “female knight” by Stockto

Once these miniatures are printed, you can offer companion programs! Generally, the designs your patrons print will come in a single color. Offering follow up workshops on painting and accessorizing these miniatures can continue to draw crowds. Beyond character design, a more narrow focus on printing and assembling terrain are natural progressions. Finally, the library can take advantage of inexpensive print costs and open source models to include miniatures in library-owned box sets for public use. If pieces go missing (they will), simply print and replace!

Fans of tabletop RPGs are a natural audience for 3D printing programs and services. Libraries increasingly cite a desire to draw in “new adults” age 18-30–a core constituent of these games. With a little work and creativity, you have the potential to better serve current library users as well as draw in new ones!

3D Printing in Libraries: Putting Your Misprints to Work!

Let’s face it, even the most carefully maintained 3D printer will suffer misprints. In the past, I’ve muttered some choice words before throwing the offending object out. Happily, there’s another way! Enter the “3D Printing Swear Jar!”


Rather than depositing them directly in the garbage, I now collect these misprints and later put them to work demonstrating concepts like infill percentage and supports. I use them in 3D printing classes to conduct “autopsies” where we try to discover what went wrong–was it a poor design or did the printer get bumped?

Believe it or not, your patrons often find these partially finished or even mangled prints to be of interest. I’ve been asked by folks of all ages if they can take home a stray strand of filament–scoring a half printed octopus is a real prize! Before throwing anything out, simply put it in a bin near your 3D printer with a sign that says “take one.” If your printer isn’t located on the public floor, choose a high traffic area like your reference desk or circulation.

As a final option, your land of misfit prints can find a home in a makercraft. Maker programs are always starving for consumables–repurposing some ruined filament is a great way to save some money and maximize your investment in a 3D printer.


Using Augmented Reality To Improve Local History Collections

We’ve Made Local History Collections Accessible, Now Let’s Make Them Fun!

localhist copy

With the Pokemon GO craze in full swing, many libraries are looking to capitalize on the phenomenon. While there are ways for libraries to benefit directly (see my prior article here), there is also the potential to incorporate the underlying augmented reality technology to great effect!

Augmented reality, for those unfamiliar, is defined as a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. In the case of Pokemon GO, a game world is formed from your actual GPS data, and Pokemon are layered over your camera’s view. So just how could libraries use augmented reality to improve their local history collection?

Many libraries maintain digitized (and physical) copies of historical photos, documents, newspapers and other media. When digitized, this media is made accessible via the internet, and ideally, is placed on a website that is mobile responsive. As digitized media, there is only so much interactivity that takes place. With social media integration or by posting media directly on a library maintained Facebook page, we can start conversations, but it’s hardly the immersive experience that a local history collection could be. In short, we’ve made local history collections accessible–but we’ve hardly made them fun!

Now imagine your library publishes a local history app. Opening the app displays a GPS map with markers indicating a local history cache. Once you reach a cache, you could have an amazing multimedia experience. Looking through your mobile device’s camera, you view historical photos that are layered over the very location you stand at, perhaps answering the question “What was here before Starbucks?” Exploring further, you could access a description of the photo, or even listen to a snippet of oral history pertaining to the location! This makes your history collection an immersive experience rather than something more akin to research!

Returning to Pokemon, we must remember that its successful use of augmented reality is still attached to a thoroughly fun and addicting game. To more fully emulate its successful recipe, a library may wish to add elements of gamification. So what are some game elements we could add to our theoretical local history app?

A person might earn badges for visiting sites within your community, much like punching a passport. There could be trivia challenges. Using the app, people could provide their own written or spoken recollections of your caches, improving the depth and quality of your collection. You could even have time-limited challenges! For example, you may be able to unlock your town’s bicentennial parade only by visiting main street on the Fourth of July holiday weekend!

paradeAs the History Channel’s slogan reads, history is “Made Every Day”. A library that wishes to further democratize the process could allow patrons to upload their own media, provide metadata and tag it to their GPS location. With a smartphone, we have all become documentarians! Parades, natural disasters and other occurrences are history that we wish to document–why wait until they are old to do so? By making local history both accessible and fun, we can increase our collection’s engagement with the community, create a greater sense of ownership, boost use and improve its overall quality!