Low-Cost Costume Props

Did you see this year’s lineup of cosplayers and clever costumes at GenCon? Impressive stuff, but cosplay like this often requires hours of work, stacks of money, and actual skills to pull off (no wait… to put on? Pull on? Nevermind). But imagine if you could bring just a bit of that kind of fun to your game table without breaking the bank or burning up all of your game-prep time sewing custom outfits for all thirty-five of your NPC’s. You can have props and costumes. You just have to put on your +3 Goggles of Frugality (they’re made out of cardboard) and look at common objects with the cosplayer’s eye.

Sourcing Stylish Suits

Where does he get those wonderful toys? Your first destination for game-table garb is your own home. Check the back of your closet for old clothes that might serve as the suit of a wild west gambler, a dress that can be scrunched into something like a druidic robe, or a leather jacket that has the foundations of a cybered-up punk. Flip things inside out to see if there’s a lining that a haughty sorcerer might deign to wear. And look for blankets or thin quilts to turn into cloaks, while you’re back there. If you have a good starting point, you probably just need a little bit of embellishment like costume jewelry or a broad belt wrapped over the shoulder to sell the look. And don’t forget to raid the kid’s toybox for plastic weapons and other props. Just be sure to put them back before they notice (and they will and you will be in trouble).

Can’t find anything good in the attic? Then it’s thrift-shop time! Thrift shops and dollar stores are the go-to place for the cosplayer and prop-maker on a budget. You’re not just looking for an old blouse that will become the garb of space royalty, you’re also looking for cheap items that can be torn apart and repurposed. If you’re only going to spend a couple of bucks on it anyway, then you won’t feel guilty about slicing off the sleeves or prying apart the plastic case to get at the steampunk gears inside. Scratch-and-dent side tables can become an actual wooden shield with a screwdriver and a little paint. Dollar-store travel bottles turn into potions when you add water and food coloring. And that fake leather skirt can transform into fake leather armor if you’re willing to warm up the glue gun and break out the permanent markers.

Your best bet for budget breeches is a Halloween shop just after the holiday is over and everything goes on sale (sorry about your luck, countries that don’t have candy-based holidays). Big box stores and larger grocery chains that sell costumes will also do major discounts to empty the inventory, so be ready to raid the shops for about a week or two before it all vanishes into the overwhelming onslaught of commercial Christmas. This is where you’re going to score the cheapest pre-made costumes and props, especially for Halloween favorites like pirates, superheroes, and whatever Hollywood blockbuster or video game franchise was popular that year. Use your thrift-store recycling techniques here, too, and really customize whatever you can find. And if you miss your window, don’t forget the discount chains that buy closeout stock from other stores. They’ll have a few leftovers in the subsequent weeks.

Duds for the Destitute

Never fear – cardboard is near! If you don’t have two copper pieces to rub together, you can still enjoy costumes and tabletop game props by leaning on the old standby: cardboard. That Amazon box can be turned into just about anything, from a box-like helmet to a simple sword to an arm-mounted computer sleeve, if you’re good at arts and crafts. Cardboard tubes make great barbarian clubs or bard flutes, and you can make a cheap wand with paper, glue, and paint.



Cardboard isn’t the only useful thing lying around the nerd nest – here is a short list of other ordinary objects that can be modified for gaming.

  • Aluminum Foil Coins – wrap it around a cardboard circle and lightly emboss designs with an inkless ballpoint pen
  • Candy Gemstones – Gushers look like gemstones, or you can find other gummies and carefully cut them into the shapes you need
  • Chopstick Wand – wrap with wire, string, or ribbon and decorate with beads or stones
  • Cred-Sticks – used up gift cards can be repainted to look like futuristic cash
  • Cyber-Shades – stick random wires or cords to a pair of sunglasses, then tuck the cords out of sight into your shirt
  • Fake Cigarette – roll up a piece of paper, glue it, color the ends with markers
  • Familiars and Pets – stuffed animals (always a hit with younger players)
  • Martial Arts Warrior Bandages – wrap toilet paper or strips of white cloth around wrists and ankles for that Dragonball-Z look
  • Paintbrush Mustache – use an old or cheap paintbrush and run a bead of hot glue along the bristles, then cut it off the brush handle and trim into shape
  • Pillowcase Hat – fold over the open edge a couple of times and secure it with hair pins or a string
  • Tablecloth Cape – attach it with the string-and-stone technique shown in the blanket cloak video above
  • Transmute Textbook to Spellbookmake a paper cover and decorate

Multipurpose Masquerade

If you only have room in your game bag for one costume item, make it a scarf. They are versatile enough that you could theoretically portray multiple characters by simply wearing it in different configurations (or change it whenever your Master of Disguise character switches outfits). You can turn it into all kinds of garments – headbands, hats, masks, slings, sashes, belts, or skirts. Here are some links to scarf-wearing guides to give you ideas.

Just remember to keep an eye out for new costume ideas and interesting props whenever you’re out and about. You might even get some great ideas for a character to go with them!

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