MapTool – updated macros and using it for in-person games

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about the nitty gritty of using MapTool, so I thought that would be a good topic.  I’ve been using MapTool for my online War of the Burning Sky campaign (we’re three sessions into the game so far), and it’s worked like a charm.  The only glitches that have come up have been minor errors on my part (putting the wrong power on a PC, forgetting to update an armor class, etc.).  MapTool continues to be an awesome program.

I’ve updated everything on my MapTool Macros page on the Downloads section of this site to reflect the properties I’m using today.  There are package files available to download for a PC and for a monster, as well as sample tokens for a PC and a monster with all of those macros included.  You’ll still find the single target and multi-target attacks, along with damage, healing, initiative (I’m actually using MapTool’s initiative window now), visibility toggling for monsters, and a macro I wrote for our shaman PC to summon and dismiss his spirit companion.

Of additional interest to me right now is a visit I made to the friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, to see a wonder in action: A local GM (Ian) who uses a laptop and projector to put the map and monsters on the game table.  With this setup, the players still use minis for their characters and move them around on the table, but the GM prepares the map in advance along with the monsters and creates a projected image for everyone to move around on.  If I had a setup like that, I wouldn’t need to worry about printing out my maps with PosteRazor – I could just take the electronic version with me and have the ability to change it on the fly.  Given my love of MapTool for my online games, this would be great!

In order to run a setup like this, I would need to do several things.

The hardware

If I go the projector route, I need to build a projector setup.  This, of course, is the biggest obstacle to this approach.  Building a setup with a projector and game surface is expensive and difficult.  However, it’s been done before.  I like the approach laid out by Sean Pecor on his web site.  Check out the image of his setup:

I like!  It cost him just under $800 to get this together, and most of that (about $550) was the cost of the projector itself.  I could swing this if I REALLY wanted to, but unless I had a regular home game, I don’t think it would be worth it.  Still, if I go this route I will probably use this design.

For what it’s worth, Ian’s setup (the one at the local store) is a great deal more involved than this.  It consists of a free-standing wooden stand that has a table for the DM’s laptop/papers/dice, which then extends far upwards (probably about 8 feet off the ground) to an upside-down mounted projector that shoots forward onto a mirror and from there onto the table.  There isn’t a fixed surface – Ian just uses a large piece of white foamboard that he puts on the game table.  It’s neat, but Sean’s setup looks way more portable (a big win, in my opinion – especially if I want to use this for LFR or convention games).

It pretty much goes without saying that another necessary piece of hardware is the laptop to run the game.  I have a Dell laptop that I got in May 2010, so I’m in fine shape there.

The software

Ian spent some time showing me the software he uses for his game.  First, he builds maps in Dundjinni.  From what I’ve seen, Dundjinni is a fine mapping program, but I’ve settled on MapTool and I don’t see myself changing.  Apparently Dundjinni creates maps that are sized for A4 paper, and if you want a bigger area than that you’re making multiple maps.

Ian then exports the Dundjinni files as JPEGs and sticks them together in Photoshop.  He also resizes them to 60% of their native size, which evidently makes them the right size for his setup to project them at a one-inch square scale.

The software that I was REALLY interested in turned out to be a homemade program that Ian had written in Visual Basic.  This program lets him load up a map and send whatever part of it he likes to the table.  It also lets him pop monsters onto the map, show attack rolls, etc.  He showed me a lot of its features and I realized something:

MapTool does all of that already.  It’s also free, and I know how to use it.

Now, the one software piece that I didn’t understand at all going in was how Ian managed to project one image onto the table (one that only shows what he wants players to see) while still seeing the full image on his laptop (with all of the hidden monsters, traps, stats, etc.).  It turns out that he has set up his laptop in “Extend mode” with a projector.

This essentially means that he is using two monitors.  The one on the “left” is his normal laptop screen with everything that the DM should see.  The one on the “right” is the projector.  His homebrew program just sends whatever he wants to the monitor on the “right” (that is, the projector) while keeping the full image on the “left” (his laptop screen).  It’s ingenious in its simplicity.

Laptops vary, but there are two basic ways I’ve seen to set the Extend Mode up:

  • On Ian’s laptop, which is an HP machine running Windows Vista, he right clicks on the desktop, goes to Display, and chooses the two-monitor option from a drop-down menu and then the Extend mode from a list of options that pops up.
  • On my laptop, which is a Dell machine running Windows 7, I go to Control Panel – Appearance and Personalization, and then under Display choose Connect to a Projector and select the Extend option that pops up.

Now, I haven’t actually tried this with my laptop yet (I don’t have a projector, you see), but I think it should work.

The best part is that I think I’ve figured out how to do it in MapTool.  I don’t have Ian’s homebrew program to send images to the projector side of the extended screen.  However, I think the following steps will work:

  • Open up MapTool on the main monitor and load up the campaign that I want to run.
  • Start a server on this instance of the MapTool program.
  • Open a second instance of MapTool.
  • In the second instance, connect to the server that’s running from the first instance (which should be available in the LAN tab of the server connection box).  This second instance is now connected to the game as a player, not a DM, so only the player content will be visible.
  • Move the second instance onto the projected monitor (the one off to the right).
  • In that second instance, hit Ctrl-Alt-Enter to put it into fullscreen mode (or go to View – Fullscreen mode).
  • Run the game as you would online on the main instance.  Everything you reveal with fog of war, unhiding monsters, etc. will show up on the table, but nothing else will.

I’ve got to say that I’m really excited to try this idea out, and I may just hook my laptop up to a regular computer monitor and treat that monitor as the “projector,” just to see if this works!

Has anyone else tried using MapTool with a projector to run a game as I’ve described?  What about using other software?  Do you have any tips on where to get a good deal on a projector?  And am I totally nuts for thinking about doing this?  Discuss!

3 thoughts on “MapTool – updated macros and using it for in-person games

  1. I’ve hooked up my laptop to my television and used the client/server setup that you’ve mentioned. It’s very simple to use and it makes for the game to go very quickly.

    I’m actually putting together maps for a few one-shots that I hope to use over the holidays when family comes into town. (I have the PCs use another laptop to move their pieces.)

    A few notes, depending on the size of the 2nd monitor/projector, your laptop may or may not be able to handle it. May 2010 seems like it should be able to handle it, but I’d recommend hooking it up to a second monitor and trying it out.

    I’ve been looking for cheap projectors for another project I’m working on. The best deals I’ve seen on them have come from refurbished manufacturer units.

  2. I know you’ve invested a lot in MapTools, but you should look into Masterplan. Not only is it a Campaign/Adventure generation tool, but it can:
    a) run an encounter
    b) display a map
    c) generate a ‘player’s map’ separately from the GM’s map

    With your projector setup, the player’s screen ought to look pretty nice.

    You can also import map tiles and/or maps generated from other sources.

  3. I like Masterplan and I have indeed looked into it in the past. It’s a good program. Does it have integrated dice rolling? I don’t remember seeing that, and I’d really like to have it if possible. Also, can I have the player’s map open in one window and the GM’s in another? I would need that for the projector setup, of course.

    I think I’m probably fine with MapTool, but I’m always open to considering something else.

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