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Using a TV as the games table

Nilbog

Explorer
Hi

So after 30+ years of using various tools and methods for recreating combating at the games table (everything from graph paper to a dry erase battlemat) our group has acquired an LCD TV that we plan to use.

Looking around the night I've seen various ways people have physically built this into the gaming table and I'm reasonably happy with our design, however its for the actually gaming side I was hoping for advice. I was wondering what tools people use, both to create the maps (or any archives of maps we could use) and to actually display them on the screen. My current line of thinking was to use Roll20 with one laptop plugged directly into the TV to display what that PC's see and the DM's laptop controlling all the background stuff, is there a better way of doing this?

We don't really plan on using tokens in any software package, as we have miniatures that we will use (the TV screen is protected by a layer of perspex that sits a few millimetres above the screen, can this cause issues on the screen?)

Also any other gotcha's and pitfalls we should be wary of using this approach?

I'm hoping it leads to a more immersive experience without too much extra overhead on DM prep time.

Thank you
 

muppetmuppet

Explorer
Roll20 requires an internet connection. That may be bad.

I would personally use map-tool, which is free and needs no internet connection.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Probably obvious, but I'll say it anyway - Note that the screen knows nothing of your miniatures. If your software does anything that interacts with the character's position (like, say, lighting effects in Maptool) then you will need the software's tokens anyway.

Note that with a layer a few millimeters thick then sitting a few millimeters above the screen, and people mostly sitting at the screen's edges, you are apt to see some parallax error when placing your minis.

Overall, your design needs to take into account the heat generated by the screen in operation. Make sure there's sufficient airflow.

Also, protect the power cables. People will trip on them.
 

uzirath

Villager
I would personally use map-tool, which is free and needs no internet connection.
I would lean toward MapTool too. It's focused on the map aspect of things and doesn't require internet or a subscription. For at-home play, this puts it ahead of FG or Roll20 for me. (I'm using it for network play too, and like that too, especially since I've got some software developers as players who can help build custom automation.)

I'm unsure about how the minis would work on top. If they work visually (i.e., parallax isn't a problem as [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] mentioned), then the GM could just erase the fog of war appropriately for the scene and go with that. You would have to settle on a scale that works for minis and make sure all your maps were at that scale. You wouldn't be using any of the other automatic features that go with tokens, but you don't get any of that for regular battlemat play, so it wouldn't matter. (And, again, since the software is free, you don't need to worry about maximizing value.)

I'm eager to hear some after action reports of how this goes!
 

GrahamWills

Registered User
I've played in such a system an it was ... ok. The resolution was pretty poor, much worse than a printed map and it was muddy and fuzzy. Gridlines have to be pretty thick. Parallax wasn't actually an issue -- not sure why, but don't recall it as a problem at all. Software was somewhat slow and yes, it was pretty nice for fog of war effect, but that was pretty much the only advantage it had.

With a 4K display on a table with a 3' side, you'd have about 60ppi, which is noticeably not as good as print, but it's getting close. Text will be legible and relatively pretty even down to smallish sizes, and textures will not be muddy. I'd be interested if anyone has managed that system. Not cheap, though (4K @60" looking at $600 minimum). But my experience when playing on a lower resolution system was that it seemed more a novelty cool thing rather than something i'd want to do every day.

Anyone have experience of a 4K system?
 

Nilbog

Explorer
Thanks for all the replies, much appreciated.

We did trial the system earlier in the year with a very basic setup, and it did encourage us enough to go with it permanently. We never had issues with the resolution (we never used printed maps just markers on a white grid, so anything will be a step up on that), however the parallax and heating issues are my two biggest concerns around the physical set up of the screen. I suspect we will put as thin a layer of perspex as we can a few Millimetres above the screen to allow the heat to escape while minimising the parallax effect as much as possible, I suspect it will be a bit of a compromise.

From the software point of view, we will be taking that on a per DM basis, the current DM does a lot of online play so is very familiar with Roll20, and has a lot of his campaign in that, so it makes sense to start with it. The difficulty will come in finding the balance between features and simplicity, like [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] said to use a lot of the fog of war/LoS features we will need to use tokens, but I don't think the group would all want to have to login and move everything as it takes away attention from the adventure and was starting to feel more like a LAN party for the original Neverwinter Nights. When we trialled it, we had one player who loves gaming and PC's in general control a 'light' token that he moved around as required to reveal new features on the map. It worked ok, but still tended to distract a little. I suspect ultimately we will just use it to display the battlegrid minus fog of war/LoS.

My only worry was how to easily create the maps, I'm not great with computer art packages, so I was using the original Neverwinter nights level creator to throw a few maps together (I'd export them to a graphics file) I was wondering is there any good software out there for creating battlemaps?

Someone mentioned arkenforge, but its not free and I don't want to spend money if its not a good product, does anyone use it?
 

MarkB

Adventurer
Overall, your design needs to take into account the heat generated by the screen in operation. Make sure there's sufficient airflow.
But at the same time, guard against excessive liquid flow, or outright ban drinks at the table. One bad spillage could ruin your night.
 

muppetmuppet

Explorer
You can make your own maps in maptool or drag and drop maps you already have. I am completely hopeless at art type things and I was able to make a passable house with a removable roof.
 

muppetmuppet

Explorer
Oh and somewhere you mentioned the software was slow. That is the problem of moving big files around on the internet. If the software is not connected to the internet it is inherently much faster.
 

AndromedaRPG

Explorer
Someone mentioned arkenforge, but its not free and I don't want to spend money if its not a good product, does anyone use it?
I use Arkenfoge at my house. It's a solid product. I found making maps (especially on the fly!) is quite easy. You can also import existing maps (I am currently running Iron Gods using it); I have also added elements making it easier to fill out a room. I have also enjoyed it for those rooms that stack; they have a simple layer system that allows you to place rooms on top of one another. It supports fog of war (including a dynamic system as well as static erase).

Despite it being in an alpha release, I have found it to be quite stable. I have been using it for about a year now. I know that they will be raising the price soon ($30 to $35), but it is a one-time purchase, which is nice. I have not used all of the features of it (for example, haven't touch the sound system yet). Of the features I have used, I have enjoyed it and found it well worth the investment.
 
Have a heavy arse 85" TV with a touchscreen overlay that I deinstalled from a place because the touchscreen wasn't working anymore and the company concerned didn't want the old TV back. Usually that's due to high shipping costs making it not worth the effort. We initially tried to just sell it off as-is but got no takers. We still have to look into what it will take to repair the touchscreen but our plan is, one way or another, to put it into use as a D&D/gaming surface. The biggest issue is the sheer size and weight of the monstrous thing - not to mention the table frame that will need to be built around it. And it's gonna have to be moved with us out of state in less than 6 months too...

Putting up maps on the thing will be simple in comparison.
 

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