Everyone had so much fun with the Doom Gong at Gen Con 50. It signaled the death of hundreds of Dungeon Crawl Classics zero level adventurers in the DCC game room and made quite an impression as we paraded it through the halls of the convention center. Joe Goodman was stoked and he wanted more. Because the Gong spends most of the convention in the game room, he wanted something big and impressive for the Goodman Games booth in the vendor’s hall.
“Can you make some obelisks?” He wrote me in an email early in the year. “Sure.” I replied. “Obelisks with integrated book shelves and banner poles to hold big DCC flags?” He added. “Sure… probably.” I responded.
I drew a terrible mock up drawing with a shelf of books and a skull nook. Joe gave the thumbs up. So, I immediately did nothing for the next five months. Because that’s how I roll.
But not really. I thought about the project every day and truly lost a good bit of sleep over it. But an unprecedented amount of day job related work and the fact that I no longer had a workshop space, left me struggling to get a foot hold on the project.
Much like the Doom Gong project I waited till it was almost to late and then immersed my self in it. My wife was away at school in Europe again and I was single dad through June, so nothing got done. But when she returned I threw up a portable canopy in the yard and went to work.
The weather was terrible, but not surprising. It was either 95+ degrees or pouring rain. I’m basically immune to that from landscaping, but I am usually not working with products that need to be kept dry or need low humidity to set up properly. We had built my wife an art studio in the back yard the previous winter and she graciously let me take it over for a few weeks, which along with its dehumidifying air conditioner really saved the day.
So, the weekend after the 4th of July, I had three weeks until we’d need to leave for Gen Con. I put on my wizard hat and a selection of my best amulets. It was time to build some obelisks.
There was no live metal band this time to provide a proper doom soundtrack, so I set up some old Dell computer speakers with a subwoofer, plugged in my phone and turned up the Black Sabbath. I drew out a template for the obelisk sides right onto the plywood I was using for a table and started cutting.
There’s about a one-inch gap where the safety shield doesn’t cover the saw blade. I immediately set the circular saw down with that one inch of exposed spinning blade on the cord to the music system. Then after twenty minutes of splicing tiny wires I began again.The angles for the pyramidal caps were really vexing me so I had to make card board models.
I cut the angles on an ancient table saw from the 70’s for legit Dungeon Crawl Classics street cred.
I also made most of the several hundred, well it felt like hundreds but was probably six, trips to Lowe’s in this 70’s van for the same reason.
Work was progressing. There was a large amount of measuring, remeasuring and T-bevel work but I had the basic shapes together.
I had glued all the pieces together and secured the joins with brads from an air gun. Pop. Pop. Pop. So many brads. I was feeling bad for my neighbors.
I ordered some two-part epoxy resin from Amazon to be delivered in two days.
Designing the shelves on the fly took a bit of figuring out. When I put the shelves into the first obelisk, I made the opening square, but I didn’t like the look.
I mocked up some skin with card board and it made up my mind.
I chopped them out and remade them on the same angle as the obelisk sides. Lesson learned the second set went a lot faster.
Once the framing was done for the shelves I had to build a structure to hold the banner poles, which would pass down through the pyramidal caps. It is a 2” PVC tube which was glued into a hole drilled in a 2×4” piece of pine.
I wasn’t sure how heavy the banners would be and I didn’t want them pushing the bottom out of the holder if someone dropped them in too hard. I used screws here instead of brads for the same reason.
I secured the tops and the banner pole holders onto the obelisks. The skeletal forms were looking really arcane at this point. Definitely some wizard artifact vibe happening. I told my neighbors I was building Time Pylons and Etheric Antennas.
I kind of hated to start skinning them with lauan and cover it all up.
But it went quickly, laying the forms wright on the material and tracing the sides and then using the jig saw to cut them out.
I got to use my favorite tool, The Shaver, when the edges didn’t quite line up. A lot more brads were used. Pop. Pop. Pop.
These things needed to be big to even be seen in the tumult of the Gen Con vendors hall. I had planned on making 2 ft. square bases for them from heavy plywood, both to weigh them down and to make them at least a bit impervious to the inevitable stroller and mobility scooter collisions. I made two big heavy plywood cubes with open ends, they weigh about 35 lbs each. All assembled the obelisks with the banner poles are 12 ft. tall.
Next, I glued Styrofoam insulation board over the outside of the obelisks, so I could carve into it and make it look like ancient stone.
Up until this point you could always go back a step if you really messed up. But when you cover it in liquid nails construction adhesive there’s no going back after that, only starting from scratch, if you botch it. I didn’t put any in the shelves themselves for the same reason I didn’t do the bases. I was worried wear and tear from people pulling books in and out wouldn’t take long to damage the foam.
Since I didn’t have 15 hours a side to wait for adhesive to dry I popped some brads in the foam to hold it too.
Baba Yaga, my familiar black cat, stopped by to make sure everything was progressing as planned.
She told me I was most assuredly doing it wrong.
I sealed a few of the seams with body putty, but it always cups the foam a bit, so I quit using it and went over it all again with an, acetone based, wood putty. I was about half way done at this point, but I only had a week left. The epoxy resin still hadn’t shown up.
I hassled Doug Kovacs and Harley Stroh to help me come up with ideas for sigils, runes or other iconography to carve into the sides of the obelisks. They were both in Gen Con crunch time on their own contributions, but they did take the time to help me out and lend their ideas to the project. I based most of the imagery on things I saw or thought I saw in the big “The Black Heart of Thakulon the Undying” painting Doug had finished for the 2018 DCC Gen Con Tournament. I had been using a high-resolution copy of it as the desktop on my computer, so it was never far from my mind.
I drew the images onto the foam and free hand cut them out with a razor knife. There’s the Septus Ocularus of Sezrekan, Malkous the Seven Horned Cat of Sezrekan, The Death Mask of Sezrekan, and a Seven-Pointed Star of Sezrekan.
The obelisks sigils are mirror images of each other. I carved some random cracks into the panels and did some weathering on the edges to make them look ancient and time worn. Then sanded it all again.
I’m not sure I got the star right, because these sigils leak eldritch energies and soon the studio was infested with a mischievous purple haired gnome.
Later a version of myself from the future appeared, so I put him to work helping me shuttle the obelisks in and out of the studio and sanding the seven-pointed stars of Sezrekan.
It was time for epoxy. But the epoxy I ordered hadn’t shown up yet and the delivery company had no idea where it was. So, I had to go to a local marine supply house and buy sail boat epoxy.
The resin step is the worst. Coating everything in chemically reacting epoxy resin without messing it up is always a challenge. You must mix it just right, so it sets up fast, but not too fast. If you mess it up it may never set up and then it’ll just be sticky trash and you’ll have to start from scratch.
I mixed up one of the pots wrong and it turned in to a smoking and hissing block of crackling plastic in less than a minute. I only messed up one pot though.
When the resin is dry you sand it, forever and then do it again, as many times as time allows.
I think we did three coats, but I wish it had been seven. I put extra thick applications on the corners and around the edges of the shelves to help protect them. It rained the entire week.
I tried to match the paint on the Doom Gong from pictures. I mixed it up from the same paint I used on the year before.
But I wouldn’t know if I got it right until they we in the same room together on the last day of Gen Con. I base coated it with a hand mixed dark grey made with Killz shellac-based paint to help it stick to the epoxy and add some more strength.
When that was dry I did two other applications of incrementally lighter gray to give the faux appearance of eldritch stone, the sort of material ole Sezrekan would have had his sorcerous minions quarry from the roots of forbidden mountains to construct his phlogiston agitators.
I set them up to admire my handy work and make sure the fit was good. Then I clear coated them with six cans worth of matte varnish.
Luckily it had stopped raining and was back to being 98 degrees. The obelisks got so hot in the sun I could barely pick them up to move them.
It was down to the wire and I was really strung out. I had put in about 100 hours of labor in three weeks and continued to do my day job too. Although I did hire some guys to cover me the last few days. I got all the parts wrapped up in an elaborate array of moving blankets and we loaded them into a Uhaul along with my wife and daughter and off we drove 630 miles to Gen Con 2018!
The next morning, we got them set up at the Goodman booth, put the banners on top and filled them up with books.
They had looked so massive in my backyard, but they fit right into the background chaos of the Goodman booth with its visual feast of excellent art and to Gen Con at large.
On Sunday we paraded the Doom Gong from the DCC room to the dealer hall scattering convention goers every time Tim Deschene strikes the gong. We set it up on a table in between the obelisks. It looked impressive. Joe Goodman is slowly building a life size DCC playset. The winners of the tournament got to sound the gong one final time in victory and another Gen Con was in the books.
Later that night at dinner with the crew, there was talk of what’s next. Ziggurats, sacrificial pits, braziers, sarcophagus, thrones on dais, trans dimensional portals, hexagrammic demon traps, a real dinosaur, are all things that were tossed around by the wild minded writers of your favorite modules. What’s going to appear at Gen Con 2019? It is hard to say this early on. But keep your toes crossed and your third eye on the blood of the scrying pool and perhaps the shape of the future will be revealed to you.