DIY D&D – how a team created a universe you can 3D print at home


Resin 3D printing is a bit magical. You send a design to the machine, watch the build platform descend into a pool of mud, and then, hours later, a model appears seemingly out of nowhere. Even after countless draws, the giddy excitement of this reveal doesn’t fade. This is what I always dreamed of when I was young: the ability to print literal toys.

Except, these days, the D&D community has taken that dream one step further: rather than sticking to individual miniatures, they’re creating worlds for us. Stream and Play (opens in a new tab) is one of the groups leading this charge, and it has grown from a single person fumbling with the best 3D printers to a company creating entire universes of content.

DIY Facts

Cast n Play undead ogre

Each Cast n Play pack comes with a variety of creatures, terrains, and accessories. (Image credit: Cast n Play)

However, it was not easy at first. Alex Zaragoza’s first 3D printer arrived broken. As a used machine he bought on eBay in 2015, it was, in his own words, “very bad” – the parts didn’t fit together properly and he had to glue them. But even so, he was blown away by what it could do. Although he passed away less than a year later, Alex (then a 3D artist in the video game industry) had been bitten by the virus. So when a friend offered him a resin printer they didn’t have room for, he jumped at the chance. Fast forward a few years and Alex is now in charge of over a dozen employees and a business that attracts monthly subscribers for around 40 fantastic thumbnails every four weeks. They’re also wrapping up their latest – and judging by the over $156,000 raised so far, successful – crowdfunding campaign.Terrain Essentials Vol II: Interiors (opens in a new tab)‘ with many accessories for your game table.

There are clearly people looking for something like this because I don’t know how else they would find this store I did last night

Alex Zaragoza, co-founder and director

It wasn’t the ability to design large configurations that set him on the path to Cast n Play, however – it was cost and practicality.

“We were getting into Warhammer for the first time,” Alex tells me over a video call. “And I’m like, ‘It’s too expensive. I’m sure we can print things [instead]. If you don’t care, I don’t care. Even if they look shitty, we can play. And if we like the game, then we can buy things”. So we started uploading things to Thingiverse [a community 3D design website]. And it was kind of hard to get things. For example, for D&D, I would make lists of all the miniatures I would need to run the whole book, and I would search the Internet like, “I’m going to need three goblins, one dragon, four spiders”, whatever. And it was so hard to get them.”

Naturally, there was only one solution for a professional 3D artist like Alex: he would have to make these miniatures himself.

Promotional shot of the Cast n Play Nebula war game

Cast n Play is also responsible for the Nebula wargame (Image credit: Cast n Play)

Even though he only intended to sculpt “a shitty goblin” just so he could start using it in his home games, he started wondering if anyone was selling models like this- ci for other players in a similar position. So he opened a low-key Shopify store to test the waters.

“It started selling even without advertising or anything,” says Alex. “I just uploaded a few models, and every once in a while we’d have a sale for a few dollars, then $10, then another dollar here and there. And I’m like, wow, people find them even though I don’t not the promotion So clearly there are people looking for something like this because I don’t know how else they would find this store I created last night.

From there, things snowballed quickly.

Full time dreamer

Cast n Play Terrain Essentials Vol 2: Interiors

The Terrain Essentials: Interiors campaign offers a variety of decors for your tabletop worlds (Image credit: Cast n Play)

By this time, model subscriptions through Patreon had started to gain traction. So, as you probably guessed, Alex decided to create your own (opens in a new tab) in a ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ moment of spontaneity. And while that’s no surprise, what happened next might be.

“We opened a Patreon and kept uploading stuff, making sure the text looked good. And before I even shared it with my parents and friends, a few people subscribed. I mean, it was [only] $1. But they just jumped without even having images. It just said “Cast n Play 3d printable miniatures”, and maybe a shitty description. And that was it. People were willing to pay a dollar just to see if there were better models out there.”

A domino effect followed. Alex created more models, and these gained more Cast n Play subscribers. He then hired another sculptor and concept artists for additional miniatures, which encouraged more subscribers to sign up, and – well, that escalation continued for four years until the team reaches its current total of 31. These days, the group produces a few crowdfunding projects. per year, a model independent wargame and complete adventures compatible with the best Dungeons and Dragons books to accompany their original Patreon campaign.

We want something you can print at home that feels like an official quality product

Alex Zaragoza, co-founder and director

This is a good example of people’s appetite for this idea. In an age of ever-increasing costs, value propositions like the one offered by Cast n Play are more than a little enticing. For starters, paying around $9 a month to get around 40 detailed models that can be used in most of the best tabletop RPGs – even if you have to print them yourself – is way better than the $30 to $50 you get. ‘should spend on pre-built miniatures at normal brick-and-mortar stores. It comes down to pennies per model, which is pretty absurd considering you’d be lucky to get more than five minis for your $9 if you went the old-fashioned way of blister packs or boxed sets.

However, players aren’t as locked in to choice as they were when Alex began his journey. Loot Studios (opens in a new tab), Broken anvil (opens in a new tab), and countless others are now offering massive template packs every month. So what makes Cast n Play stand out in a now much more crowded environment? For Alex, it always comes down to ease; rather than having to pay for models, dungeon tiles, and scenery separately, you get everything you need to play a session in one package.

And there’s a lot more to come too.

“We’re trying to jump into the board game space,” reveals Alex. “We’re trying to design something that’s specifically designed and well thought out for 3D printing. We don’t want to get physical, we want something that you can print at home, and that feels like it’s a official quality product.

Cast n Play Undead Bat Figure

Monthly subscriptions offer approximately 40 STL files, including monsters, heroes, terrain, and props (Image credit: Cast n Play)

With 3D printers now becoming more affordable than ever (unlike in the late 2010s when they cost thousands of dollars, you can now get a respectable resin 3D printer for around $200), Alex thinks this type of approach experimental is the future. In fact, he compares this to the situation YouTube was in a decade ago.

“The fact that people [could] making videos and posting them on their own, with very little equipment, is kind of where I think we are right now with 3D printing,” he says. “Now we have amazing quality YouTube channels. And I think we’ll eventually get there with 3D printing as well, where small teams can produce very high quality products.”

Fundamentally? Watch this space – 3D printing will only get more impressive over time. Considering where he is right now, that’s more than a little exciting.

You can register at Cast n Play monthly subscription here (opens in a new tab)and free sample minis are available through the Cast n Play page Gumroad (opens in a new tab). For more tabletop shenanigans, be sure to check out our must-haves guide board gameshigh board games for adultsand these essential elements board games for 2 players.


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