Vision of the Palantir Loot 2020

Despite this year being a little different than others, I still wanted to give something positive back to the community. It has helped me during the quarantine and the support for the blog has grown substantially during the past year. So in order to thank those that wrote for the blog this past year and to the many supporters that are pledging money through Patreon to keep the blog going, I made some more loot this year! This article will detail the design and production process of the loot and will share images of how some of the items turned out.

In short, the loot for this year hasn’t been a surprise, since I already shared my plans in early August. I decided quite early in the year that I would do a laser engraved version of player cards, so that people can bring those to the table. Not only does this give people extra copies of some important cards, but it also changes up the cards a little. Having wooden cards is quite a lot different than the cardboard versions. The process of creating these cards was not without its fair share of challenges, some which impacted the final product. But I am very pleased with the results I got, and learned a lot about the creation process so that I can experiment with other items in the future.

The “elf batch”, one of the production batches of cards

Cards process

The following sections will cover the different steps in the production process of the cards, and how they came to be. All in all, the process took 9 months to complete from initial purchases to final shipping.

Planning

The idea for custom made cards came to me somewhere in December after I completed the favourite heroes poll of that month. I thought it would be cool to somehow be able to make some custom cards made out of wood, so that people would have a distinctly different card on the table. During this phase, several ideas passed through my mind, like stacking different layers of wood on top of each other for a 3D version of the card, but in the end, I decided to keep it simple. A flat panel of wood with the card’s art engraved into it would be enough. I looked around for a laser engraver in January, and came across a portable 500mW laser that would engrave 100×100 mm panels. Since standard player cards are roughly 88×64 mm, this would be enough. This was before a large spike in Patreon support, so most of the money that I saved up would be put into this device.

Waiting

While I knew that the laser wouldn’t be delivered until March, as this was a project that had to be backed by enough people to go into production, I didn’t expect it to be delayed until July… This was of course thanks to the pandemic that has marked this year, but also due to some faulty communication with the supplier. Let’s just say that my prototypes should have been made back in April, and got delayed quite a long time. Earlier delivery would have meant more tests for me on the cards to improve quality, and more time to produce all the cards.

The cancellation of Con of the Rings did give me some extra time to produce the cards in, plus I knew that I didn’t have to make extra cards to hand out to people at the convention. While it wasn’t fun to learn that I didn’t get to hand out any cards in person, it did help to soften the delay that the laser received.

Side-by-side comparison of prototypes

Prototypes

When the laser eventually arrived, I went straight to work trying to set it up. I had to buy some extra bits to make it work better, such as proper ventilation and a stable tripod. But by mid-July, the first prototypes had been created. These cards were used to test the different styles of cards that could be made, and were some calibration trials to make sure the cards were orientated in the right direction. The first ever trial was with Lore Aragorn, as I figured that he would be a good benchmark for the other cards. Some extra cards were made as well, to see if the laser could produce the same quality between different arts, and I found that it was pretty consistent, with the exception of some heroes (more on that later).

Surveying

Now that I had my laser set up and plenty of raw material to make cards out of, I now needed to know how many cards I could make. While I could make 20 copies of 5 different heroes and send them to everyone, I thought it would be better to have everyone select their own favourite cards and that I would make those on order. So a survey was made where people could fill in their desired cards (selection between 3 and 7 based on support tier). I will share some statistics of the survey here.

  • The most popular cards selected for this project were Gandalf, Tactics Eowyn, and the Bond of Friendship contract. Each was selected 67 times, so I had to make sure they were of proper quality.
  • A total of 46 different cards were made. The One Ring, Bond of Friendship, Council of the Wise, and Messenger of the King were the only non-hero cards selected.
  • 4 people were clever enough to pick some alt art heroes, of which I made Boromir, Celeborn, and Galadriel.
  • 9 out of 30 people was willing to pay for their own shipping, with several of those also covering the shipping for other people. This decreased my expenses for getting the loot to everyone.
  • I had to ship loot to people from 9 different countries. These are: United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, and Denmark.
  • A total of 98 cards were made.

Production

The production was made out of different steps. I first cut up the wooden panels I bought into 8 sections each. This was roughly the size of a playing card, with enough room for errors. I then put every panel under the laser one by one to engrave them. This took some trial and error, but the experience I had with the prototypes helped with this. I found a proper position for the laser after a few tries. The cards were skewed just a little bit to the right, but having this setup on my desk allowed the laser to work while I was working on the computer next to it. Not only was this safer, but I would also know immediately when the engraving was done.

After the front of the card was finished, the card was sawed to the right shape on a bench saw. This gave me the correct dimensions for the backside of each card, which would otherwise have a chance of being misalligned. The cards first had their edges sanded down. This was quite a lot of work, as I had to do the sanding by hand. And 12 edges times 98 cards is a lot of sawdust by the end. But while I was sanding cards, I could let the laser work on the next batch of cards, so in the end it was quite efficient.

With smooth edges, the panels could now get their backside engraved. During the poll, I gave everyone 3 options for their backsides. They could either get the original One Ring card back that all other player cards have (with a white “Vision of the Palantir 2020” near the bottom, or they could go for some lighter alternatives. One was only the text at the bottom, just to let people know that these cards were a part of this year’s loot. This was by far the easiest option, and I could do 30 cards this way in the time it took to do one One Ring backside, since those were very slow and had to be engraved properly. Some players also chose to include the sphere icon of the hero on the back side. These designs were made by Emily Dillhunt for the digital cardgame, and I even picked up a couple of them during Con of the Rings 2018. The designs were easy enough to translate into a laser file, and they came out very nice. Gandalf hero and other non-sphered player cards did not receive these symbols unless requested, they only got the text in most cases.

The different options for backsides

With all cards prepared per person, they were bundled up and packaged. If the recipiant had not received the patches from last year, I threw a few of those in the package as well, since I have no need for 20 Osgiliath patches. This is a nice way to get rid of them, and allowing people to not miss out on loot from last year. Each recipiant also got a handwritten letter with their package, which was a nice touch that I try to do each year. But since I had quite a lot of packages to send out, the letters were a little shorter than last year. My hands are no longer used to writing a lot by hand, but I prefer this over a printed out “Thank you” card.

After everything was bundled into a package, they got shipped out in waves. I didn’t want people to have to wait longer for their packages than necessary, so I shipped out things whenever they were ready. With shipping time being 1 week for Europe, and 2 weeks for North America, there was still some waiting involved, and at the time of writing, there are still several packages on their way.

Challenges

During the entire creation process, there were some hurdles that had to be accepted or overcome in order to get to the final product. A few of these problems couldn’t be solved in time to get the loot out to everyone, so I think I might explain some decisions here to explain why some cards look a little different from one another.

The first of these problems comes in the form of low contrast cards. The art on some cards was very dark, using different darker colours to show the artwork. Think of heroes like Quickbeam and Black Riders Frodo, who’s art is quite dark. This lack of contrast meant that the laser either made everything black, everything white, or couldn’t identify certain features on the art, like the shape of a head. This caused some of the artwork to be less detailed than other artwork where the contrast was a lot easier to work with.

Some of the failed cards. Either poor engraving, cutting, or incomplete textboxes.

The second problem was that some more recent artwork had a peculiar method of scanning, which meant that smaller dots appeared on the artwork when it got translated to the file that the laser used. This did cause the cards to have a higher detail, but also added a lot of specs that the laser filled in onto otherwise blank surfaces, mainly the text boxes of the cards. This only really became an issue with heroes from the final 2 cycles.

With the laser being a cheaper model, there is only so much detail you can get out of it. The lower intensity and smaller dot size certainly helped with the detail on many of the cards, but in some cases, the art is missing some pieces like eyes, since that was too small for the laser to engrave. This is more noticable in textboxes, especially those filled with text. Small text was difficult to engrave, especially the very small font used for the flavour text on cards. While this isn’t crucial, and many people know the card’s text anyways, it does mean that some of the textboxes can be difficult to read.

Due to a lack of an orientation tool, I had to improvise one. I used a tripod setup that worked well, but did cause the cards to slightly misallign. The cards are therefore a little skewed to the right at the top, and not perfectly square. I have tried a ton of different setups, and some of the earlier cards made will still be skewed a little more than others, but the final cards are made as best as I could do with the resources available.

Laser engraving is permanent, you cannot erase any mistakes without sanding off the top layer of the card. So if there are any mistakes with allignment of cards, it was due to a human error but was kept to make sure that all cards were shipped out on time. Examples of this are a few cards that had their top part done twice, and some text on the back sides of cards are not in the same position. Remember that this was still a mostly manual process so mistakes can be made.

Playmat process

I wanted to do something extra for the higher tier supporters and those that have stuck with the blog for a long time now. So for those pledging at the Master-stone level or higher, and those that reach the $100 lifetime pledge before October, I also sent out some custom made playmats. I made a total of 8 playmats, one of which I kept for myself. The others will be sent out to the biggest supporters and won’t be available to others once I am out of stock. At this moment I do still have a few left, which will be sent out to the supporters when they reach $100 as a lifetime pledge on Patreon.

The playmat is a standard size mat, and features a 7-panel piece of artwork depicting the location of the 7 Palantiri. Below that is a purple-black gradient border that I particularly like the color of. It also features a custom logo and the title of the blog on it, in Ringbearer font of course. This didn’t take me too long to make in Photoshop, but since I am not very skilled with it, the end result might not be as nice as it would have been if I had ordered custom artwork from an artist. However, I do not have the funds to support so big an expense, so fair use artwork will have to do.

The art for some locations was easier to find than others. Not only did the artwork have to be detailed enough, but it also needed to fit on the mat. Elostirion, Amon Sul, and Isengard were easy, since they are towers and fitted the box well. Minas Anor and Minas Ithil weren’t too difficult either, though finding non-movie or game inspired artwork was quite tricky. Unruined versions of Annuminas and Osgiliath were also very difficult to find. I also didn’t want to do a map of the city or location, else it would have been a little easier.

The one with runes is my personal one, the other 7 will be handed out to Patrons.

The mats were created by Inked Gaming who also provided nice stitching along the edges of the mat. This prevents the artwork to detatch from the rubber base as easily, which I have found to be a problem with playmats that I use frequently. This improves its durability at the cost of being a little more difficult to roll up. The mat is thin though, so it doesn’t take up much space when rolled up and can be easily used as mouse mat in case you have too many playmats for the game.

I hope those that received the mat will enjoy it. I will send out the ones I have left over the coming months, as more faithful supporters reach their $100 milestone. I will be in touch when that happens. Items like this mat will hopefully be made for higher tier supporters again next year, though it won’t be a playmat. I will have to look into the options and budget for next year, but with more support, I can make nicer loot for everyone!


Future loot

I have an amazing idea for next year that will hopefully work out great. I have been using one of these things for my own playthroughs for a few years now, and have had a few questions about them already. So I will look and see if I can find a place to print these for next year. With Patreon continuing to make me enough money, I will hopefully be able to fund this project for next year. But if you have suggestions for what you would like to see as loot in 2021, then feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. I am always looking for some good ideas, and might even bundle some together in order to give even more back to the community than I have this year.

I hope everyone who has received their loot is happy with it, and that I can count on your support in the years to come. You all make this blog possible and I am very grateful for that. As for the people that missed out on the loot this year, I do still have the laser, so I might be able to produce more cards in the future. Be sure to support the blog by writing articles or by pledging through Patreon and I will make sure that you get the chance to play with your own wooden cards soon.


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