Back in 2013 my home D&D game in Toronto was getting a lot more involved. We were using the D&D Next playtest rules (what would become 5e next year) with miniatures. Most of my players had come from 4th edition, so a lot of our games were very set piece based with battle grids, minis, and elaborate terrain.
My next encounter involved the party uncovering a conspiracy against the Crown Princess of Remlia (their fave NPC) by her steward and advisor. The steward was secretly an elf spy from Figaro (the magical desert nation to the south), who planned to kidnap her and hold her to ransom. His getaway was supposed to be two battle balloons.
That summer, the Pax Prime live D&D event involved Acquisitions Inc being rescued by a battle balloon. The whole sequence was a huge inspiration for me. The miniature used on stage (made by prop-master Matt Smith) was incredible, but while that one likely cost over a hundred dollars and took days to meticulously construct and paint, I had an afternoon and ten bucks.
So here's what I came up with.
The battle balloons are made of scrap cardboard, textured paper, wooden skewers, 1 litre soda bottles, paint, and a lot of hot glue. They came together in a few hours, just in time for the game. These miniature dirigibles have a 2x6 square interior, big enough to fit a few miniatures.
These DIY battle balloons wowed my players and made for some really fun grid combat. The players' characters were swinging from balloon to balloon, sailing them around a castle, and chasing after each other in a magical dog fight. It was one of the most memorable combat encounters I've ever run, and I had an absolute blast.
This DIY D&D project was my first foray into building miniature vehicles. They're definitely a little rough around the edges, and I can think of a lot of ways I could improve on the designs if I ever made them again, but making them was a turning point for me as a Game Master. They solidified me as a 'crafty GM' in my players' eyes, and every big encounter since then I tried to top myself.