The projector setup is a success!

It’s late.  I have to go to work in the morning.  I don’t care, though – I’m excited, and I need to write about it!

This evening I put my projector setup into action for the first time.  I ran a Living Forgotten Realms session at the local store, Enchanted Grounds.  I had seven players turn up for a session of CORM 1-1 The Black Knight of Arabel.  I had played this module in the first LFR game I had ever experienced as a player, so I was pretty comfortable running it as a DM.

I arrived at the store about 40 minutes before the game’s scheduled start time so that I would have plenty of time to find a good table, set up the rig, adjust the projector’s focus and so on.  All of that went totally smoothly.  By the time 6:00 rolled around, I was ready to go.

This would be the first time that I was using MapTool for the monsters and the map but not for the player tokens – the players brought their own minis for that.  I had realized when putting the adventure together that, if I wanted to keep track of initiative within MapTool, I would need to have something to at least represent each player for that purpose.  So, I created a set of seven generic PC tokens with their own set of properties.  The image for each token was a number (1 through 7) which I assigned based on the players’ seating arrangement around the table.  The name of each token is the character name.  Their properties include the player’s name, their race and class, their defenses, their initiative modifier (for tiebreaking) and their passive Insight and Perception scores.  It was great for helping me remember everyone’s name, character name, and character type.  The defenses didn’t come up much, nor did the passive insight or perception, but it was nice to have in case I needed it.

The adventure began with a little back story of how the party came to be traveling to the town of Arabel – charged by the king in the capital city to investigate rumored Netherese activity involving shadow creatures and reports of a black knight.  They began by helping a man repair his wagon, when they were set upon by shadow creatures.

The first battle was quite easy for the party, even though I made the minions into two-hit minions.  They dispatched the shadow creatures with little fanfare, helped the wagon driver repair his vehicle, and set off after the dark rider they had spotten on a distant ridge.

At this point I turned off the projector as the party entered a skill challenge to track down the rider.  This was a well-written skill challenge, and the players role-played it well, too.  They ultimately came upon the rider in his camp and started disagreeing about whether to attack or talk.  I allowed a little talk from those who wanted to do so, but the “attack” camp grew restless, so I called for initiative.

The not-so-bright fighter in the party (good role-playing, not a dumb player) decided to charge Dark Skull, narrowly avoiding some traps.  Other players tried to convince Dark Skull to drop his weapon, and he said that he didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he wasn’t willing to drop his guard with the fighter standing next to him.  So, the parlaying character decided to bull rush the fighter out of the way.  Great plan – except that in her quest to get to the fighter, she ran over a pit trap!  Oops.

Dark Skull teleported into the shadows, and the cooler heads in the party were eventually able to start a dialogue that led to an alliance with the falsely-accused knight (the skull was just a mask). They decided to go back to Arabel to find out who was really behind the dark goings-on. Since we were going into role-playing, I turned the projector back off.

Since we were doing fine on time, I decided to  run a little bit of the Arabel skill challenge.  The party repaired a broken obelisk in the town square, then went to the tavern where the innocent “black knight’s” father worked.  The father had cursed his son, leading to his shadow powers, and so the party questioned the father.  They asked about his family, and the father didn’t mention any adult son but told them that his wife and infant son were at his house some distance away (I made this up on the spot).  The PCs decided to go to that house to question the wife.  They found the house to be dark and broke in – no one was home, but the door to the basement was locked.  They picked the lock – and found an empty basement.  Clearly the father had lied.

The group returned to the tavern to confront the father about the lie, and found that he had left, heading toward the town square.  Some streetwise checks confirmed that people had seen him go that way, with some young lovers (also made up on the spot) in the square pointing toward the theater as being the father’s destination.

Upon entering the theater, the party saw a bunch of cultists of Shar looking at the stage, where the father was making a speech and getting ready to sacrifice a baby.  Again, some of the party wanted to talk, but others charged into action – the battle was on!

This is an interestingly-designed encounter, with the players having the option of either convincing the crowd to disperse, in which case they fight the leader and some shadow creatures, or not convincing the crowd to disperse, in which case they fight the leader and the crowd.  Since the party had mowed down everything in their path, I decided to have them fight BOTH the crowd and the shadow creatures!  Happily, the shadow creatures rolled low for initiative, so their entrance from behind the party made for a nice little surprise.

Even with the two-front battle, the players were able to win the day.  They mowed down cultists with no trouble, and the shadow creatures simply didn’t deal enough damage to be a threat.  The most interesting part of the battle was in round four, where I had the leader give up on fighting off the party and start trying to sacrifice the baby.  He picked up the baby and got ready to slaughter it, so the players tried hard to stop him.  One of the physically weaker characters in the party leapt down from the balcony and bull rushed the leader to make him drop the baby.  Unfortunately, this left the baby next to the party wizard’s flaming sphere!

One of the fighters, who was prone at the base of the stage, made a DC 20 athletics check to pull herself up onto the stage from prone and charge over to bull rush the baby out of harm’s way, diving to the ground again to do so.  The cult leader naturally picked the baby back up again, getting ready for the slaughter, so the party wizard hit him with an attack that caused him to lose the ability to take opportunity actions.  There’s a little-known rule that says if you can’t take opportunity actions, you lose any grabs you were making.  The baby gets dropped again (fortunately, I ruled that it was wearing a tiny little Amulet of Feather Fall as part of the ritual), and ultimately the cult leader was wiped out.

The session was loads of fun, and the technology ran without a hitch.  The only minor issue is that even the 2,500 lumens aren’t quite bright enough in some cases – the altar on the stage was tough to see (black on brown).  The solution there is probably for me to think a little more about contrast when I put the maps together.

I’ll tweak a couple of things for the convention on Saturday, but for the most part I am ecstatic about this rig.  It’s loads of fun to run, and it makes the game go very smoothly.  Thank you to my players for coming out to give this a whirl – especially to Andy, who told me that he reads my blog.  That’s the first time I’ve ever met one of my readers without having known them in person first.  It was a pleasure gaming with you, Andy, and with everyone else, too!

P.S. If anyone wants the MapTool campaign file that I used for this game (with my updated tweaks added), it can be downloaded here.

11 thoughts on “The projector setup is a success!

  1. Great pics of the table in action!

    Is there anything you’d do differently if you did this again? Is there anything you don’t like about how it plays?

  2. Since I was there, I will second what you said, it worked exceptionally well.

    I had thought about the top down projection but every time I had seen that in action, the projection would shake so much, I would get car sick. Your set up hardly moved at all, for which my stomach thanks you (and probably everyone else).

    I agree, it got a little hard to see some of the graphics. But the main reason for that was right above the table was one of those halogen lights. Which are great for reading fine print with old tired eyes, but wash out anything projected.

    One of things I liked about the projection set up is there was no downtime between encounters. There was no break in the story’s action, which keeps everyone focused.

    Another distraction was the two white boards you used to show the projection would sometimes get moved or separated. Something I thought of this morning would be a sheet of poster paper underneath the two boards stuck to the poster paper with that tacky putty used for hanging stuff on walls.

    All in all, a great time. You handled the adventure and the group very well. I liked your style of DMing and cadence. And the projector was cool too.

  3. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    @Mike: Well, as I said in the post, I’ve tweaked the maps to give them a little more contrast on the table. I also agree with Andy that I need a better solution to the foamboard problem – the two separate pieces would come apart from time to time. I’d like to get one 30″ by 40″ piece, but I don’t know where to find one.

    As for the projector rig itself, though, I was completely happy with it and I don’t plan to change a thing right now.

    @Andy: Yes, you’re right about the bright light overhead being a problem. Still, I’d like to have a rig that will work even in light that bright, and I’m hoping that better contrast will do the trick.

    I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the projector rig meant very little down time between battles, but it’s a good point. I guess that’s why we were fine on time!

  4. I know Staples has black 30×40 pieces of foamboard…not sure about the white though. My pack of 3 sheets ran me about $16. shows they have it in white for $20.29. They can order it off their website & delivered to the store or to your home. I’m SOOO jealous of your rig!! Good luck!

  5. Hey, nice setup. I have a similar one myself. I also use MapTool and have a portable stand I use for gaming conventions, as well as a projector mount installed in a horizontal position for home home use. I also started with the staples foam boards as well. I wouldn’t go for the enormous 40×30 map though. I found a smaller map, about 28×21, especially when projected on a glossy surface (like a magnetic dry erase board I also picked up from staples) greatly improves the image, even in a “bright” game store. Reason is, the closer your projector is to the table, the brighter your image.

    You have to deal with a smaller map, about 140′ x 105′ in scale, but the image looks much brighter and sharper (the resolution is better – at 40×30, you have about 20ppi, at 28×21, you have closer to 30ppi).

    Here’s a tip: If you use a 3×5 index card, flipped on it’s non lined side, to set the player miniatures on, you can just slide them around the map and so you can adjust the map to your surface.

    Here’s a post on having 3d fun with my projector setup for low cost. It also details the stand and some other technical issues.

    For portability, I would prefer to use a “boom stand” (and I have some from my other hobbies) but they aren’t sturdy enough for projectors like yours and mine. Some of the newer hand held projectors are another matter entirely, though they lack in lumens.

    In my opinion, this setup works best if the “minis” are tokens in MapTool – even using the top down central view with only a dm server and a single laptop client connected to the projector. Then get one of these ( and the players can pass that around to move their miniatures. This works best if your end of the table is the “top”, so players don’t have to move the minis upside down. If you use the MapTool tokens, most importantly, you can adjust the map at will and the players move with the adjustment. It also opens up all the vision, auto exposure, lighting, macros, initiative and other automation of the tool. Use as much or as little as you like.

    • Great setup, and thanks for the comment! I’ll admit that I don’t quite follow your suggestion about putting the players minis on a 3×5″ index card; they seem to slide around with no problem on the existing game surface.

      Also, I’ve talked to my players about using digital tokens instead of minis for their own characters, and they all prefer the minis (as do I as a player). That’s just a group preference issue.

      I’m torn on the size issue. Brightness really hasn’t been a problem for the most part – the map has been easy to see except in that one session that I detail in this post, and that was partly because I choose poorly contrasting colors. I like the idea of a dry-erase board, but I’d need one big enough. I like the bigger map, frankly.

      Sure, I can reposition a smaller map if needed, but if I can pull of the bigger mapping area, why not? I hear you on the resolution, but I get around that problem by enlarging the monster tokens when they’re first introduced so that everyone can get a good look at them, then shrinking them back to normal size. That seems to work quite well so far.

      I’m glad to see others using projectors for gaming, especially with portable rigs. Game on!

      • The card allows the party to move as a group, rather than fussing with moving each mini around – not really an issue during combat, but a time saver for delving.

        Yeah, the hybrid (player minis and DM tokens) is a method I have used a lot. It is also easier at a convention, where people may be expecting to use miniatures. But then I have to move a torch or something around to do the exposure.

        The other huge advantage to using tokens is you can zoom in and out and around the map without having to worry about it being aligned or exactly one inch.

        Are you running any games at Genghis?

      • I have run classic events in the past, but don’t have anything prepared for this con. I also got a bit disheartened at the last con I ran games at when knuckleheads signed up, reserving spots, then didn’t show up or worse, showed up and left! I am also dragging my feet with 4e. I really like 3.5 RAW, but am finding less and less interest for it.

      • I’m really only familiar with 4e, but I know there was tons of interest in 4e games at TactiCon. If that’s not your cup of tea, what about Pathfinder? I know there were a bunch of Pathfinder games at TactiCon, and I think there are a bunch more on the schedule for Genghis.

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