The Counter Culture 2009 Part 3: Counter Workshop By Todd Secord
This is the third of 3 articles that delve into Fiery Dragon Production’s long line of Gaming Counter products. Part 1 “The Culture of Counters” talks of the company’s long standing history of producing counters for the gaming industry and many of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that we have encountered over the years. Part 2 talks of the Philosophy of counters; how counters can help to improve one’s game beyond their obvious use, and lastly, Part 3 “Counter Workshop” gets into the construction and care of counters. Let’s begin!
The Counter Workshop
The following is a “How To” on getting the most out of our counter products. Covered here is a best practice on the selection and use of the counters. Much of this comes from Fiery Dragon’s play testing and design intentions, but also from the feedback of 9 years of happy customers. Fiery Dragon offers two kinds of counter products at present; Published Counters and Digital Counters. Published counters are the “hardcopy” version of the counters that you could buy at your local gaming store (or order online). They come in sheets, on card stock, and are generally grouped in themes. The digital versions of the counters come in themed packages as well (or you can obtain all of the images with Counter Collection Digital v3.0), for which you can download or buy the applicable CD. They contain the images only, which can be organized and printed as needed, as much as you need.
The Number One Rule of Counters!
As with all our counter products, you will be using some kind of sharp implement, whether it be scissors or a cutting blade, so this is the official disclaimer: BE CAREFUL WHEN CUTTING APART THE COUNTERS! With that in mind, let’s look at the recommended tools and at the same time comment on their safe use.
Yes, you can use scissors, but they’re pretty awkward when trying to cut in straight lines. In order to preserve a quality edge on each of your counters, we highly recommend using a cutting blade of your choice. Here in Canada, our favourite blade is called X-ACTO, but straightforward razor blades are just as effective. No matter what kind of blade you choose it is important that it remains sharp. A sharper blade allows for a crisp cut, and lessens the chance of the blade slipping and possibly cutting your self.
When using a cutting blade, in order to cut straight lines, using a ruler with a metal edge is the best tool. If you use a plastic ruler the blade runs the chance of cutting into and shaving the ruler itself. Whatever ruler you choose, make sure that has a slip resistant backing. If you possess a ruler without a slip resistant backing, using a few strips of masking tape, layering them up piece by piece along the spine of the ruler will work as well. Scotch tape is not an option here please. Masking tape has a textured tooth to it that allows the ruler to grip better – Scotch tape is far too smooth for this use.
When using the digital counters, we recommend that you glue them to a cardstock backing. The best glue for this job is rubber cement, bar none. Yes, you could use a glue stick, but you’ll find that it is not nearly as easy to work with, nor as consistent in its adhesive power. White glue, or any other glue for that matter, is not recommended. Rubber cement can be found in any major office supply or art store.
Using a blade requires a cutting surface of some kind. The absolute best tool for this function is an actual cutting mat (the example I have is big, but you can get something a bit smaller). However, we do recommend a flat piece of cardboard – the kind that you find as the backing to a pad of paper works best depending on its thickness. At any rate, when using the blade, it is essential that the surface you do choose allows for enough “grab” for the knife to cleanly cut through the counter card stock, but not so much as to allow the knife to damage the surface you’re actually cutting on.
Going Digital…with Counters
In recent years, we’ve moved towards offering the counters in a digital format. If you check out our counter products page you’ll see that we have a considerable number of themes to choose from. The ultimate selection of all these products is Counter Collection Digital v3.0, which features our entire library of counter images thus far, coming close to 3 000 images! We present the counters in 2 different digital formats. The first of these is in PDF file. This format organizes the counters in sheets, similar to the how we present the published counters, but obviously you print them off through the use of a printer. Generally, we use the PDF configuration if we are presenting specifically themed counter packs such as the “Greek Counters of Doom”. The second format presents the counters in a series of Jpeg images. We believe this format is the best use of the counter images because of the versatility it allows. With the Jpeg image you can print multiple images (as many as you need!), size each of them up or down, reverse side them, or using a paint program you can colour customize them. Furthermore, you can port the images into any digital character sheet you may have, or use them in any adventure aids you may create.
Let’s Build Some Counters!
The following steps can apply to all of counter products, but it is primarily geared towards the digital format.
Step 1: Building a Counter Sheet
So how do you get the Jpeg files into an organized counter sheet? Once you assemble a counter list for your adventure, there are a number ways to do it but there are two specific methods that we recommend. The easiest way is to download the free counter template sheets found on our website. There are 4 different templates, all in PDF form, allowing for counters 1” to 4” square sizing. Once in the template, you click on a square which will prompt for the counter files; then you locate the file and select the appropriate counter Jpeg. Using these templates, you can fill out the different kinds of images, as well as repeating specific counters to the quantity required. The second method is to build a counter template sheet using either excel or word programs. This method allows for customizing the counter images to fit different kinds of sizing for other editions of D&D or other RPGs altogether. However you choose to organize the counters before printing them off, we recommend that you group them together in a geometric pattern in order to cut them out more efficiently.
Step 2: Printing Them Off
To get the full affect of the counter images, colour printers are best. And, of course, the quality of your printer will reflect the quality of the printed image. I find that on my printer, I have to wait for the full colour sheet to dry before I go to the next steps, but I know that I could combat this problem by upping the quality of the paper I put in the printer. I felt the need to talk of this stage because at this point, you need to decide just how disposable you wish to make your counters. Some customers have commented that they simply print the counters off, cut them out in their strictly paper form, and then throw them out after the adventure is done. This is a great strategy because it eliminates the energy and space required for storage. However, my personal strategy is to build the counters so they last – within a reasonable expenditure of extra money. Like I said, when you print the counters off, the quality of paper you print them on matters, but some have tried printing them onto photo quality paper for greater effect.
Step 3: Choice of Re-enforcement
In Step 2, it was said that some GMs don’t mind using the counters in their paper form. Without the benefit of re-enforcement, these counters will find their shelf-life short lived. If you want the counters to last for multiple uses, you need to fix them to a tougher card-stock (or another material altogether). Bristol Board: This is the most obvious choice, and likely the cheapest. Because Bristol comes in large sheets it allows you to build lots of counters with just one sheet, and its quality is good enough to make the counters sufficiently durable. Keep in mind too that Bristol comes in different colours; an option if you wish to sort the counters to your personal needs.
Illustration Board: This is one step up from Bristol Board and generally thicker. Basically, most illustration board is an artist quality sheet of card board that is more expensive then Bristol Board. I would imagine that your local Staples or Kinko’s doesn’t sell illustration board…but if you have an art store in town, they certainly will. It’s pretty impressive with respect to durability; at the end of the session, the counters became ammunition in what one could only describe as a “counter fight”. After words, it was only a matter of finding the counters, and those that we did find were used in the next session with little signs of ware. Regardless, the real benefit of illustration board is that it makes the counters thick enough to be picked up easier, but at the same time not too difficult to cut through.
Foam Core: Foam Core or Foam Board, whichever term you like. If the store you’re shopping in sells Bristol Board, it sells this stuff too. Foam Core is slightly more expensive then Bristol Board, thicker then illustration board, far lighter, but just as durable. I have found two negatives with this stuff, but one huge plus. Bad news first; you need a really, really sharp blade when cutting it, and it needs to be a very clean cut or you’ll end up tearing it all together. Second, with respect to storage, because they’re so much thicker, they become that much more difficult to store. However (and here’s the huge plus…), if your biggest frustration with counters is picking them up, then foam core has no substitute in this department. In a superhero game I run, all the heroes (the PCs) I put on foam core, and all the other counters on Bristol board. That way there are different levels of thickness on the battle mat, and therefore it is easier to move all the counters around.
Everything Else: Theoretically, you could put the paper image on just about anything; cannibalizing cardboard boxes (of various kinds and qualities I would imagine), balsa wood, very thin sheets of acrylic, etc. Typically, PC counters – those that have become near and dear to their player – usually get the “stone tablet” treatment. Whatever your choices may be, just be careful with their cutting (no patronizing here, just gotta say it!).
Step 4: Fixing the Counters
If you choose Bristol/Illustration Board, or Foam Core, there is only one way to fix the paper counters to the backing – rubber cement. Yes, you could use a glue stick, but trust me, if you’re building the counters to last, the glue stick is inferior. Let do this. Evenly spread the rubber cement on the backing as well as the back of the counter sheet. Wait about 3 to 5 minutes for the rubber cement to dry.
Before positioning, use a clean sheet of paper to place between the two surfaces to keep them from immediately sticking. Line up the counter sheet to the nearest edge of the backing to make sure that everything is level and pull the middle sheet of paper away carefully, allowing the two surfaces to make contact evenly. Be mindful of air bubbles, or any grit or debris that found its way onto the glue. Take a new sheet of clean paper and place on top of the counter sheet. This is to protect from smearing while you make sure that the counter sheet is fully burnished to the backing.
Step 5: Cutting
Grab your blade and slip-resistant ruler and line up along the lines. Start with the outside of the counter sheet and work your way across the sheet cutting vertically. When cutting along a line, start the cut about a ¼” before you enter the counter sheet; make it a smooth, continuous cut against the ruler finishing just beyond the bottom line. Once you have finished all the vertical cuts, repeat the above steps but now doing it horizontally.
If your blade is sharp and your cuts smooth, you should be able to pick the border of the counter sheet up, leaving the bulk the counters on the cutting mat.
Let’s Talk Published Counters
The most recent counter product that falls under this category is Counter Collection 4E: Heroic. We are very proud of this offering; the culmination of everything that we have learned about publishing counters. The primary feature of this counter product is the superior thickness of the card stock. The thicker cardstock allows the counter to be more durable and easier to pick up. Because of the increased thickness we then had to “die-cut” the counter sheet, which means you can press the counter out of the sheet with little difficulty. In the past, which encompasses the rest of our published counter line, we printed on a thinner card stock closer to Bristol Board. The very first Counter Collection (Usual Suspects), and Counter Collection Gold and Summoned were perforated – a costly process, and frankly, less accurate then the die-cutting. Given the lessons that we have learned from perforating, we felt it was much better to let the customer cut the counters out themselves – less errors in the printing process and not as hard on the wallet. When cutting out the card stock counters, you definitely need to refer to Step 5 above. However, when it comes to the perforated, die-cut, and even the die-cut counters in our Counter Strike games, I too would refer to Step 5. These counters may be easier to remove by hand, but if you’re not careful, the edges of the counter will still be frayed by the pull “tabs”. Just giving a quick cut through these tabs will guarantee a smooth and even edge to the counter.
With 3 000 counter images in play, not to mention all the potential for multiples, the idea of storing the counters has to be considered. In this respect, we have received many, many ideas for storage. Initially, what I would do was keep the total of a game’s counters all together in some kind of sturdy box; a shoebox, jewelry box, or perfume box – whatever was compact and stackable. So, my supers game had its own box, both my D&D games had separate boxes, and then I had a shoebox that held the bulk of all the counters I wasn’t using. After a while, this method became unruly as the campaigns in all my games widened and got longer. I turned to using zip-lock bags, just collecting the counters needed for each adventure, and then keeping these bags in the boxes. And it was this simple method that I used for many years.
Now-a-days I’ve taken things up a notch, using a fishing tackle box, which is resonable in price and suits an extensive collection of counters quite well. However, with the fishing tackle boxes, they sell extra “divider” boxes that are extremely good and not expensive at all. Another suggestion that works is using Collectable Card Game sheets and binders – this is also effective.
You’ve got some great looking counters, but what are you going to play them on? Our good friend, Ed Bourelle of www.skeletonkeygames.com has got an extensive line of e-tiles that covers just about every imaginable fantasy environment. In addition to Ed’s stuff, I’ve been collecting environments as long as I have been gaming, starting with old school Games Workshop dungeon tiles right through to Wizard’s of the Coast and Rakham Games. However, it is my trusty, vinyl battle mat that serves as the primary back-drop to my games…try our other friends at www.Chessex.com for further details. In addition to all this, in our Counter Collection 4e: Heroic as well as our Battle Box 4e we’ve also included 17” by 22” battle mats that are dry erase.
Any questions, comments, or concerns? We need to hear them! In the meantime, we thank for your time and support! Good Gaming!