Some men get together on a Friday evening and sip a few beers while playing Poker. Others have bowling tournaments, paintball, or family functions that let them unwind after a long week. I have Dungeons & Dragons. As if you didn’t think I was nerdy enough, this should be the last nail in the coffin, so to speak. I mainly play the 3.5 edition of the game, because I never like the direction that Wizards of the Coast was heading with 4th and 5th edition. And unlike other games, playing a specific edition of D&D is not detrimental to the game itself. Sure, there might be some improvements and patched up loopholes, but generally unofficial fixes are published on many forums. The user base for the game is fairly high.
This hobby, unlike others, is very cheap. I buy $200 worth of books off Craigslist or Kijiji, have a few people over, drink a beer and share laughs. But being a person that is constantly submerged in technology, I want to bring a bit of cutting edge gadgetry to this game. Instead of using miniatures and printed out battle maps, I plan on building a digital battle mat, similar to what some people have done. The only difference will be that I will not use a projector and I will have a full touch screen system.
The plan is to use a 32 inch LCD TV, with a viewing angle of 180°, or as close to as possible. A projector is rather expensive for this type of task and requires a dark environment. The TV will be mounted horizontally, so that it projects the image upwards, towards the ceiling. It will be stripped of its bezel and mounted in a custom enclosure. Above it will sit a pane of glass. Glass works best because the heat from the TV will cause any other material, such as plexiglass, to warp. It also gives it enough strength to sit flat over the span of the 32″ TV. The glass will have infrared sensors around the border to detect when a finger touches the screen. A separate PC will drive the display and translate touch events into mouse events. I have not researched if Windows can handle multiple pointing devices, but I’ve been told it can. One worry is that the enclosure will not get enough airflow to cool the TV. Fans might be installed, but they’re usually loud and obnoxious.
I’ve been looking, rather intensely, for a software package that can function as a battle mat and do line-of-sight masking of objects on the screen. This is important if the players are wandering through an unlit forest. The trees will prune out the light from their torches. MapTool is the only piece of software I have found to properly do this. I’m not happy with this tool but it’s the best I could find. It seems as if there is a market for a better virtual battle mat software package. I am considering the challenge, but for now Maptool will do.
I’ve priced this out at around $700, with the stipulation that I will find a 32″ LCD TV or screen for a cheap price on Craigslist or Kijiji. The glass and touch sensor will come from Ashlin Computer Corporation which deals in accessibility hardware solutions for places such as schools. Construction shouldn’t take too long and should be fairly simple. The money and patience for MapTool is another issue.
As soon as there are funds to start this projects, pictures will follow. Stay tuned!