Building a simple, portable RPG projector setup

Update 8/24/2010: I’ve improved the design to make the projector floor-mounted with an adjustable angle.  Details are in this post.

At long last, I have built a working, portable projector setup for playing D&D using MapTools to run the game.

First, let’s see the finished rig in all its glory:

Maybe it’s not the most beautiful rig in the world, but by golly it works!

I’ll say right here that I’m a little surprised that I ended up going with a single-pole rig anchored with a sandbag.  I originally expected to build a big cube rig out of aluminum (like Sean Pecor’s), then thought I’d build a wooden tripod, but I settled on this design after receiving lots of great feedback here on the blog and on EN World.  It feels quite stable, too – heavy wood, heavy pipes and a heavy sandbag all combine to result in a rig that makes me feel comfortable that my projector is in no danger of falling (well, except for the coat hangers that are in place until the real mount arrives, that is).  I plan to carry the laptop, projector, cords/mouse and sandbag in an old roll-aboard suitcase and the rest of the rig in one piece in my other hand whenever I take this on the road.

Would you like to build something similar?  Here’s how to do it.


  • 1 heavy board at least 2 feet long.  Mine was a four-foot long 10 by 2 (actually 9.5″ by 1.5″) that I found in the scrap bin of Home Depot for 51 cents.  I believe it’s pressure-treated – it’s quite dense.  Cost: 51 cents.
  • 2 floor flanges for 1″ galvanized pipe. Cost: $6.38 each, $12.76 total
  • A three-foot length of 1″ diameter galvanized pipe (black), threaded at both ends (technically called a nipple). Cost: $11.37
  • A 90 degree elbow for 1″ galvanized pipe. Cost: $2.36
  • A two-inch long nipple for 1″ diameter galvanized pipe. Cost: $1.22
  • Eight wood screws, 1″ in length. Cost: I had these in my toolbox, but we’ll call it 25 cents.
  • Two curtain rod mounts plus four more wood screws for mounting them. Cost: I had these laying around, but I imagine you would spend about $1 each on them if you had to buy them plus another 25 cents for the screws, I guess.  Feel free to substitute something similar for the projector to rest on.
  • A 60-pound  bag of tube sand. Cost: $3.99
  • Two pieces of 30″ by 20″ white foam board from Michael’s (I would have preferred a single bigger piece, but this is what they had). Cost: $1.50 each, $3.00 total.
  • Some duct tape. Cost: I’ll assume you have this on hand already.
  • A projector mount. I got mine via Amazon from a company called Projector Ceiling Mounts Direct. Cost: $26.40 (with shipping)
  • A projector.  I went with the ViewSonic PJD5152 and purchased it from via Amazon. Cost: $463.99 (free shipping)
  • An extension cord and probably a splitter / surge protector. Cost: Already on hand.
  • A laptop – but I’ll assume you have that already.

Total cost:

  • Projector: $463.99
  • Rig: $64.11
  • Projector and rig together: $528.10

Before the projector mount had arrived I was too excited to wait, so I substituted some coat hangers for testing purposes.  Those, too, were lying around – no cost. 🙂 (You can see that version in some of the pictures.)

Also, I ended up using 1″ galvanized pipe, but I was planning on getting 3/4″ galvanized pipe.  Home Depot was out of 3/4″ flanges, though, so I went with 1″. I’m guessing either one will work fine.


  • A table saw (or some other way of cutting the board – you could also probably get it pre-cut at the hardware store)
  • A drill with a screwdriver bit (you could technically get by with a regular screwdriver, but the drill makes it go faster

Assembly instructions

This version ended up being dead simple to put together, much easier than my tripod – and better, too.  You could knock this together in less than an hour if you had all of the parts ready to go.

  • Cut a 12″ length and a 7″ length from your long board using a table saw. The 12″ length will be the base of your rig and the 7″ piece will be the top plate that the mount connects to.
  • Screw one of the flanges to the middle of the 12″ board using four of the wood screws and your drill or screwdriver.
  • Screw the other flange to the middle of the 7″ board using the other four wood screws and your drill or screwdriver.
  • Manually screw the 36″ pipe into the flange on the 12″ board.
  • Manually screw the 90 degree elbow onto the top of the 36″ pipe.
  • Manually screw the 2″ nipple onto the other end of the 90 degree elbow.
  • Take the 7″ board with the other flange and screw that board/flange assembly onto the other end of the 2″ nipple.  Tighten as necessary to get it pointed at the angle you want (I went with vertical).
  • Put the rig on your gaming table.
  • Empty out about half of the sand from your sandbag and twist tie / tie / duct tape up the opened end.
  • Wrap the sandbag around the base of the rig, sitting on the base board.  Put more of the weight toward the edge of the table (opposite of where the projector will be).
  • Assemble the mount per its instructions.  One piece will be attached to the far side of the 7″ board and the other piece will be attached to the projector itself.
  • Tighten the projector onto the mount as best you can. If your mount is like mine, it will want to move.
  • Figure out the exact angle you want the projector to be held at, and hold the curtain rod holders underneath either front corner of the projector at the proper place to support it.  Mark the places for the screw holes in the curtain rod brackets with a pencil.
  • Take the projector assembly off the base part of the mount, remove the top board, and screw the curtain rod holders to the board in the appropriate spot.  Reassemble – now your projector should stay where you want it.  Feel free to bend the curtain rod holders a little bit as needed.
  • Put the foam boards on the table beneath and in front of the projector.

At this point, your rig is completely set up.  All that’s left now is to hook up the cables, make any necessary adjustments (either to the projector’s position on the mount, to the keystone of the image, to the lens focus/zoom, etc.) and start running your game!

Running the game

  • Create your maps / monsters / etc. in MapTool
  • Start MapTool on your laptop and load up the appropriate campaign
  • Start a server in MapTool
  • Open a second instance of MapTool
  • In that second instance, connect to the first one as a client (it will be in the LAN tab on the connection menu)
  • Hook the laptop to the projector
  • Set your display to the Extend Desktop option (setting the resolutions on each monitor appropriately).  The laptop should the primary (left) monitor, with the projector being the secondary (right) monitor.
  • Drag the second instance of MapTool onto the projector (drag it off to the right)
  • In the second instance, hit Ctrl+Alt+Enter to put it in fullscreen mode
  • Adjust the zoom level on both versions so that your squares are 1″ on a side.  The simplest way to do this is to just adjust it on the main MapTool instance and then use Ctrl+F to force the second instance to the same view as the main instance.
  • Run the game as you normally would online!

That’s all there is to it!  I haven’t gotten to run a real game with this yet, but it will at the very least get some use at TactiCon here in Denver over Labor Day weekend.  I’m excited to try it out!

2 thoughts on “Building a simple, portable RPG projector setup

    • Paul – Excellent point, and I should have addressed that in the post.

      Yes, I did consider using C-clamps and actually tried some out. I quickly realized that on my dining room table at least, the size of clamps I had wouldn’t work (there’s a weird scalloped lip on the edge of the table). I could get some very big ones and was planning on doing exactly that, but then I figured out that a heavy weight would work better.

      The problem with even a C-clamp that does fit is that it will only clamp the side of the board near the edge of the table. That would probably make it impossible for the rig to tip forward onto the play area, but it wouldn’t guard against tipping backward onto the DM area. For that, I would still probably want a weight.

      Once I tried the weight, I felt that having the clamp was overkill. Now, I might eventually change my mind on that (especially after I have the mount, which will change the balance I’m sure), but for now I’m happy with just the weight – it feels sturdy to me.

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