SPOILER ALERT: This blog entry contains some minor spoilers from the D&D 5th Edition Curse of Strahd adventure published by Wizards of the Coast.
Saturday, May 7, 2016: The day that I started GMing for the very first time.
Okay, I’ve actually been GMing for more than thirty years, and I’m probably being a bit on the dramatic side but holy crap running a game using a video table is so incredible. Prior to Saturday, May 7, 2016: The day that I started GMing for the very first time, I was an avid user of my 12-tile set of Tact-Tiles that I picked up at Dragon Con probably ten or twelve years ago. I also have two copies of every set of D&D Dungeon Tiles that Wizards of the Coast manufactured.
And it seems like only yesterday that I considered my Tact-Tiles and Dungeon Tiles and variety of miniatures was the best possible experience. *sigh* To be young and naive.
Our group put together a video gaming table for surprisingly cheap. The table itself was already hand-built by one of our players, and we gamed on it every week for the the past seven or eight years. We tore the granite tiles off the table and inset an inexpensive oCosmo 40″ 1080p LED TV from Newegg (when our group purchased the set it was $199.99, but as of the time of this writing it is priced at $244.99). After refinishing the tabletop with wood, we mounted a surge protector to the underside of the table. And bam, our table was complete.
Originally, we were going to put a layer of tempered glass over the set for additional protection, but testing showed that even a relatively thin piece caused pretty dramatic perceived displacement of the minis (i.e., from above the screen looking down a mini would be directly on a square, but when you sit down and view from an angle, the mini appears a significant distance from where it actually sits). So we decided just to be cautious when interacting with the set and play sans glass.
When we play board games or otherwise need to have an unbroken surface, we have a removable wood insert that covers the TV set. It rests on the bezel of the TV, and when in place is flush with the rest of the table.
The software that I use to run the game is called MapTool. It is a free, open-source program that is part of the RPTools suite. It’s generally intended as an Internet virtual tabletop, but it works beautifully for our in-person game. MapTool is not very resource intensive. I run two instances of it (one as the GM copy and one as the player copy) on my seven-year-old Windows laptop and it runs smoothly without a hitch.
I set up my maps in advance and add fog of war (see pictures below), and reveal areas manually as the characters open doors, go around corners, move obstructions, etc. If you use virtual minis and designate visual obstructions on the maps, MapTool will do the revealing for you. But we like using the real minis on top of the screen, and designating visual obstructions on the maps is a bit time consuming. Note that you can create maps with MapTool, and designating visual obstructions might be much easier, but I import maps as images.
And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I won’t babble on any longer. Here are some images from one of the evening’s battles. In closing, if you have been toying with the idea of making your own video table, please pull the trigger and do it. It really is quite amazing. You can put battle maps (many free and very inexpensive maps are available at sites like DriveThruRPG), city maps, regional maps, images of locations/NPCs/monsters, and all manner of visual enhancements on the screen.