Gaming Table

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The path of the Bond Villain Lair Gaming Table Saga

Table Build – VTT v2

Well, after a few month of use, everyone enjoyed using the screen. It is a high success. Even being able to draw in spell effects was nice to be able to see clearly and while not everyone liked the exactness of it, it scratched a nice itch for me. One of those hard to reach and soul fulfilling scratches hitting that itch that must be scratched.

It was time to get rid of the box and drop that TV in. This was a one way trip. There was no going back. We were going to cut in some major holes that just would never be repairable once we start. It was a scary thought about if anything got screwed up. This was definitely one of those times where we measures a dozen times before cutting, and then measured a few extra just before. And then were afraid to measure afterwards.

We need to move the MacMini into one of the drawer areas and have sufficient pass-through areas for all the cables. The LED system needed to be pulled out. Fans would have be installed since we no longer would any form of cooling once everything was buttoned up. We needed to remove the LED controller and replace it with the fan controller, and move it to the other side of the table to shorten cable lengths. There was a lot to do, and all of it irrevocable.

We also planned on putting a new piece of glass on the new inside box, but this time we would be sealing it with clear caulk to prevent that beer-o-gadon happening on the now flat surface. We also needed to cut in an extra hole and make a hatch to be allow us to push the TV out when it needs to get replaced. The hatch was attached with some metal washers and rare earth magnets. The part that I was happiest about was the new fan system. With four 80mm fans pushing air into the TV and six 120mm fans pulling air out of the box, all of which with their own temperature probes, the new cooling system was fantastic.

Running the room at 80F to 85F the air inside the box with the TV has never exceeded 73F. The 80mm fans were much noisier than the 120mm fans, but that was expected. I set the activation temperature for the 80mm fans to be much higher than the 120mm fans, and as of yet, they almost never fire. The 120mm fans are sufficient for almost all the cooling. We also cut in another vent hole under the the side of the table where the 80mm fans are so that there was also an intake, and when those 80mm fans are running, you can feel that airflow.

Overall, besides the mass destruction that occurred to the table to make it all fit, I am very happy with the new design. Having the TV inside the table was a great move and game play has improved with everything being level. Although now we have many more errant dice causing us to enforce the use of dice boxes. We started with some smaller bamboo boxes with felt on the bottom, and moved to larger bamboo boxes with felt.

The last part of the installation was to mount the monitor arm into its permanent location and into the table itself. With a screen protector attached to the monitor it now provides privacy for the game master and any nefarious look ups or details that are needed while being able to hide them from any of the players sitting to the side.

Yeah, it looks pretty damn good.

Table Build – Adding in Virtual Table Top Gaming

After using the table for a couple of years and getting a good idea of what worked out, we thought it might be a good time to start looking into what we would want to do next. My plan was always to put a TV into the table for Virtual Table Top Gaming, but not knowing when that might happen, or exactly what form the TV might take, I did not plan any holes or power in the space where the TV would reside. Besides, I am not sure how easily we would be able to adapt to VTT for our games.

I and my fellow game master did spend some time investigating the different VTT software applications available and they overall were a disappointment. They did not seem very well developed a few years ago when this journey with the gaming table started, and even today they seemed to be either overly cumbersome or lack many fundamental features. Worse than that, they either required live Internet connections or only ran on Windows bases systems. This lack of flexibility and difficult to use programs kept us from moving forward with the VTT plans for quite some time.

It seems that most of these are written by gaming enthusiasts with little software engineering backgrounds. The tools looks and feel like applications that were written more than 20 years ago. This is not how development and applications are built today for mainstream users and businesses. Yes, some of these can be powerful, but so is a hammer. We need something that is easy to implement and add to the game without taking away from the fun and at the same time not adding a large burden to the game master. At this time, none of the tools or applications available fit this.

But, it was finally time to start testing the concept of VTT, but I was not willing to fully modify the table to allow a TV to be mounted instead. So instead, we opted for something that could mount on top and allow us to start gaining experience with how we might utilize a new tool for gaming.

We built a frame that would sit in the table with external connectivity as well as open cooling. Since TV’s normally rely on heat rising through the box and rarely have fans, we placed a vent on each side as well as two on the bottom to match the bottom of the TV. We would be relying on normal heat escaping the box to reach some sort of equilibrium between the box and the outside temperature. We installed a WiFi based temperature sensor to be able to track what the exact temperature might be at any given run point. To ensure that there were not any catastrophic beer spills we added in a rubber seal around the bottom edge of the outside of the box. The weight of the box was sufficient to press it down and form a tight seal.

We also installed a monitor arm on the side of the table via clamp. That required a lot of custom construction because of the depth of the table exceeded any possible clamp for the arm. A Mac-mini was installed on the back of the monitor and we were ready to go. As a backup we also installed an AppleTV to the second HDMI port so that we would be able to have other types of extended tests.

Glare from the lights actually become a more interesting problem. There are two sets of lights around the table. Ones around the outside and ones directly over the table. The ones around the outside were the ones that caused the most issue and by keeping those off and adjusting the dim value on the ones over the table we were able to achieve a level of light that was acceptable. Good thing all the lights were made to be able to dim, otherwise we would have had much more difficulty in finding an appropriate amount of light for the table and the players.

And then some live play on the new TV. I ended up using a graphics program for the creation of the fog of war and used different layers for different rooms and revealed them one by one as needed. While not the best solution it did work very well once I was used to the flow. The secret really was in making sure I properly labeled all the layers so I could find them quickly.

As a part of the installation, we also added a 1/8″ sheet of glass on top of the TV to protect the screen of the TV. While that thickness seems overly thin, it worked fine and the possible sag to the middle of the TV was only about 1/16″. There was some creaking in the beginning, but nothing after a week or so. I had absolutely no fear in cleaning the glass, and my cats would regularly walk and sit in the middle of the screen without any issues. The glass did however present an interesting problem. One, it increased the glare, and yes I could have paid for glare-free glass, assuming I can find a vendor making some this large, but two, there was now a gap between the miniatures and the actual image. It is large enough to cause most of the players to have some difficulty in keeping the miniatures in an actual square. You can see some of that in the images below.

This worked very well. Inside the box it reached a maximum of 87F as long as the outside ambient room temperature remained between 70F and 75F. The maximum operating temperature of the TV is 95F, so we were within the safe limits. Even with 24-hour stress tests everything ran fine and the maximum temperature stayed the same.

While happy with the functionality, it did raise part of the table up an additional four inches which for our shorter players made seeing the top even more difficult. Standing around the table became more difficult especially with glare on the screen. There was a lot more adjustment time, but after a week or so, everyone was enjoying the new experience quite a bit more than the old mat.

Playing on the Table of the Gods

It is a new glorious piece of furniture. It worked out better than I expected. Although the measurements for the top of the table were mostly based for me… some of our shorter players, well most of our players cannot reach all the mini’s from one side of the table to the other. Oh well. Maybe a croupier stick will work?

I thought it might be nice to show some gaming in progress to see how it looks. We will start with pulling out the leafs and use our Dwarven Forge 3D builds.

While nice, except for some specific set encounters, it is never time efficient to use the 3D landscape pieces. Instead most of the time we option for a monster sized Chessix grid mat that is large enough to cover the entire table.

And it seems that my cat likes the table as well.

Table Install

Oh how everyone will be happy with the new table. No longer playing on plastic CostCo tables. No more having everything spill over on the edges. Now we can have a game on a real table.

The table is ready to be installed and brought to the basement. Hmm, oh. The high turns and limited space… we did measure for the size of the top? It is in a single piece after all… And yes, it fit. Only a few small scrapes and gouges out of the wall. A small repair for a future of glory!

And there it is. As you can see we also added in some RGB LCD lights on the inside. The entire table has been coated with the same of clear coat that is used for commercial bars. The inside of the table should be able to hold water assuming a keg somehow blew up in the basement. It ended up being an absolutely beautiful table and fits in the man cave better than almost any other furniture here. I am so very excited to play our first game on the table.

Table Build

Do not expect a long montage of pictures for this. I’ll admit I failed almost completely here, and did not get very many as it was being constructed. So you will have to enjoy the small set that I have here:

As you can see a few design changes were already incorporated. Instead of the large wooden cross beams that I had in my drawings, we were able to instead use two large pedestals. This allowed two things. The first a much easy way of hiding all the cables from the floor up to the table, and the second, provide a some hidden storage space with drawers.

Of Layouts and Tactical the Advantage of Furniture

We have a table design, check. We are building out the basement, check. We know what will go where… uhm. Well yes. Obviously in parallel to the basement being rebuilt we had to know fairly clearly of what would be in the basement and where. This had to include where electrical outlets would be, where lights would illuminate the awesome planned games, and where everyone would actually be sitting. And maybe some entertainment in case we needed to watch some Anime at 100db.

Much like the design of the floor plans themselves, we went through a lot of different iterations of the layout as well. We had settled on one main configuration until the slight mis-step with the lack of two steps on the stairs changed everything for us. This is what we had originally:

As you can see, we have our gaming table, a nice little office, a couch area with a monster TV for our cat girl needs. But, with some of the space change, especially a doorway moving, we needed something new.

It was a difficult decision, but one that had to be made somewhat quickly since it impacted a lot of the infrastructure installations. We ended up with the third choice which then influenced all of our other decisions. Such as shelving:

Lighting.

And now we are settled on the build, the layout, and the furniture. So, where the hell is my table?

Into the Dungeon Down Below, AKA the Man Cave

Once we bought our final house and my wife and I started discussing the details of the decor and design that we would have, she made an interesting proposal to me. I would be allowed to do anything I want underground as long as she held sway above ground. I mean, really? What an awesome deal! Of course renovating a house built in 1950 required a lot of decisions all the way around, but free reign in my own space? BWAHAHAHAHAAH!

Ahem.

Yes. Besides rubbing my hands together and cackling like a B-Movie villain, I was ready for this task. I had a 1100 sq ft unfinished basement that I could do anything I wanted to. I confirmed my wife’s commitment to this, and praised her continuously for her foresight to let me go on this endeavor.

Once I started working on the design I realized there were many problems to solve. And since this was under the house my options might be severely limited. Here are the original images of the basement.

The floor plan was basically this when we started:

While an interesting space it had a lot of problems for the future Cave of Awesomeness and Gaming. The first thing that was needed was to rearrange everything into different spaces that made better use of the space. We went through a lot of different designs before coming up with something that was close to what we wanted.

With the last design we seemed to have a winner in many ways. One of the primary issues with the basement was the 7′ ceilings. I was given two choices, one was to raise the house, which probably would not have flown well in the historical neighborhood I am in, or to dig down. Dig down? Hmmm, underground lair… BWAHAHAHAHAAH!

Ahem..

Yes, digging down. I did not really understand what that would entail until the work actually began. To gain two feet of space means they had to dig down four feet, and build a giant french drain under the entire basement floor to handle the ground water that would be seeping up. Then there was the need to reinforce the basement walls. In the end we ended up with 17″ thick concrete walls, a 16″ thick concrete floor, and two sump tanks, one of which is three feet wide and seven feet deep. Two steel beams cross the ceiling holding the entire house up off the basement allowing us to not need any pillars in any of the rooms. We could hide them all in the walls.

Yes, if you ignore the wooden house above me, I do have a bunker. Minus the roof that is… so close.

After removing 600,000 lbs of material in the basement they were able to start building it all back.

In retrospect, this was a huge job. And yes, they did start all the digging manually. There was not sufficient room for an excavator, yet. They needed to selectively remove sections of the floor, rebuild it, then add in the new wall to the old wall so that the house could be supported. Then remove the rest of the floor. We also discovered a horrifying fact. With the age of the house, the sewage pipes were all made of iron. Old rusty iron. Old rusty iron pipes that were stuffed full… Yes, full. In fact the iron pipes were so soft they could be crushed and ripped apart with your bare hands. Well, assuming you did not mind your hands full of shit.

By finding this issue, we saved ourselves from a catastrophe in the next few years when they would have exploded all of the new man cave.

The next stage was to start putting the pieces in.

And now that we had some reinforcement we were able to finally breach the outside wall and bring in real heavy gear.

And more walls go up

And with our only true egress point sealed again the only way in and out of the basement was via a ladder. Here you can see laying out conduit for floor power where the table will go eventually. Because the entire floor will be concrete this was our only chance to put in the conduit and plan for any future cabling that might be needed. This also locked us into position for where the table would have to go.

And now closing it all up.

And the sump tanks. One small one for the private toilet. Private, it’s mine damn you! And one for all the house french drains. Both have a dual pump system. The one on the big tank is so powerful that when it is on, it blows water for three feet into the street from the outtake pipe. Do not stand near it when it goes.

It was time to start putting the stairs back in and walls and such. When we found one small issue. An issue of two steps. It seems we mis-measured the distance of how far the treads will go, and the stairs would intrude into the base area more than we had originally counted for. We had to go back to the drawings and revise them on the fly since everything was on schedule. We ended up with this modified plan.

Basically we moved the entry to the office to under the stairs and closed up the space at the bottom of the stairs. This did cause a couple weeks of stress until we worked it all out. In the end, this design worked out much better, but now introduced new desires that could not be filled. There was now a natural wet bar area that we were not able to put a sink into. Sigh.

Because we had the very thick concrete walls, we decided to go with steel frame for all the outside walls and wood for the interior ones. This allowed the steel frames to be mounted straight to the concrete walls. For insulation we put in three inches of dense spray foam sealing up the perimeter as tightly as possible.

And lastly all the mechanical and plumbing was installed, followed by drywall. Of all the construction on the house, this was the most extensive and time consuming. While all the construction for the whole house took nine months, the basement was four months of that work.

The Design and Basic Principals

I was pretty excited to jump in and start drawing up something. I quickly realized several things.

  • I am not an artist
  • I am a poor draftsman
  • I suck at drawing
  • I can use a ruler and measuring tape somewhat competently.
  • And to make sure, I am not an artist

Yes, I quickly went from many pieces of mangled graph paper to a basic graphics drawing program. No, I did not spend the money for AutoCAD. While useful, I knew that I really only needed a rough drawing for the planned table since I was commissioning someone else to build it for me. My competence is in other areas than woodworking. I needed fairly accurate measurements, but even those would change over time as the design would update during the build to deal with real world physics as well as the actual size of the room it would be placed within.

I started with something simple:

The first design was really to start figuring out the features and basic size of what I wanted. I wanted something that was bar height so that my group could sit or stand at the table. It was important to future proof by providing a deep well in the middle of the table to either hold 3D terrain features or better yet, a television for virtual table top play. Deciding on which size TV would go in it controlled many of the future measurement decisions.

From there, there would be a need for drawers and storage and a fine tuning of where the total design was going. It was also at this point that it was decided to go with a 65″ TV in the future. Putting a little extra space on all the sides, this is what I went with:

Admitted there were a very large number of revisions between each of the images that are shown, but these do represent the major revision points. Continuing to think about the details, it was also clear that power would be needed not only for the eventual TV, but for all the players, as everyone has a multitude of electronics for gaming but just because.

And finally, the almost completed design. Trying to be complete with all the design pieces all on one piece of paper. This was the final drawn design that was created.

Admitted, there were still a lot of assumptions on my part and the design itself. I was concerned that there would not be sufficient stability of the table considering what would be the tremendous weight of the top. It seems I overthought this too much and there was a much more simple solution once we started building this beast.

Gaming Table Concept

The dream of many gamers is that moment when you have enough space, cash on hand, and a burning desire to put it all in together into the perfect gaming space. Especially getting the table to end all tables to work for the next 40 years of gaming. I, like many middle-aged somewhat affluent gaming enthusiasts, decided that splurging on the ultimate gaming space was much better than some sex kitten half my age and a suicidal crotch rocket. Even better, I even had my wife’s permission!

I now had several items I needed to research as well design a space to hold my ultimate man-cave. I decided to start on the table part first since at the time, the house part did not really exist. There were a very large amount of DYI tables as well as several commercial ones that even made me drool and whoop for absolutely no reason at all.

First were a bunch of the DYI ones:

This lead me to the ultimate expression of a commercial version of a gaming table. Topping up over $15,000 the Sultan Gaming table and it’s brethern were awesome to behold:

By Loki’s twisted teet! Of course it was going to require me to rob a small bank and wait 18 months to receive that monstrous piece of cherry heaven. The company making them is completely out of business because they could not keep up with demand. I never knew that there were that many gamers with that much money burning a hole in their pocket. Maybe I should get out more and start convincing them that I need that money.

Then there was this wonderful DYI model which took a lot of the nice features of the Sultan table and even provided a model:

I think I now had enough information to get started.

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