digital, diy, tools

Blending Analog & Digital

As a technology enthusiast – computers are both my job and (one of) my passion(s) – I’ve experimented for years with the blending of digital and analog tools to both make my time at the table a bit easier and maximize the players’ experiences. I’m a strong believer that D&D is best played around a table as an analog game, but I’ve long used tools like Photoshop, OneNote and PowerPoint to create content for the table and organize my game. I think I’m ready to take the next step… a leap of faith and an experiment with hardware/software.

First, some history… while running a 4E game a few years ago, I got in the habit of kitbashing encounter maps in Photoshop and printing/assembling them for my game. Because of the prep necessary the practice sometimes resulted in an over-prepped game from which I was sometimes reluctant to deviate (“what do you mean you aren’t going through the door?”). When we switched to 5E the pendulum swung the other way… almost all encounters were run on a whiteboard with no grid. Freeform maps gave us the flexibility to explore any part of the world that the players wanted, but suffered a bit in the immersion department.

That brings us to today. I’ve just launched a new 5E campaign and want to blend the rich experience of prepared encounter maps with the ad-hoc nature of the basic whiteboard. I’ve seen so many killer examples of digital tables in the community that I thought the time had come for me to make a contribution. My game moves from house to house, so an integrated table won’t work. Instead, I’ve opted for a portable screen that can be placed on any dining room or coffee table in front of which we find ourselves.

I did a lot of research… the priority was “low-cost” but not with a blind eye to footprint at the table. I didn’t want something that would feel bulky or too intrusive. In the end I settled on a refurbished 40″ Samsung display I found for under $300. I was looking for a simple 1080p display, but ended up with 4K (woohoo!) because the panel was so much thinner and lighter than the off-brand competitors. My choice was the Samsung UN40KU6290 and I got it from Walmart for about $290.

I originally planned on building a case for the screen, but when I took it out of the box and laid it bare on my dining room table, the clean lines and thin bezel won me over. No case needed, but I would need some sort of support to make sure that the display lay level. The power cord also sticks straight out of the back of the panel, so I needed to provide a little clearance there too. Enter my friend with a 3-D printer. I designed some supports/feet with the free 3D Builder app in Windows 10 and he printed them IRL with the Prusa i3 MK2.

snip_20170616165821

The four feet on the left bolt into the VESA mount holes on the back of the panel to support most of the weight. The next two are attached to the top corner vents with wire and the last two are glued to the bottom corners. All of them have a thin felt back applied to the bottom to protect the table surface.

back

It works beautifully… a simple solution that keeps the panel stable and level. It also happens to be just short enough that most dice can’t roll under the panel. 🙂

Next area of concern was protecting the screen and while I considered using a piece of plexi or similar, I was concerned about making nice clean cuts. Instead I turned to the obvious solution… a screen protector! Specifically, a Photodon MXH-25% anti-glare film. I am super happy with this material… it softens some glare but doesn’t hide any of the 4K yumminess of the screen. It is also both scratch and fingerprint resistant which helps with any concerns about sliding minis across the surface. Nice.

So, what does it look like?

table

I hope that this is the start of a new chapter in D&D geekiness for me… and I have lots of ideas. Some of them might even be worth posting as I get more experience.

More to come on how I’m driving content to the panel and things like that.

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