From dining room to Questing Lounge: how to make a customizable table top-game board

January 19 | Guest post by Tim the Wizard

A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I created an adventuring party to start playing Dungeons and Dragons 4.0. We all got together one night and played using some miniatures harvested from HeroClix and a tiny map from a Lord of the Rings tactical fighting game.

While the first experience was awesome (we made those skeletons PAY!), we realized we needed more than one map if we ever wanted to adventure anywhere else. None of us has the money to dump into buying thousands of maps or printing them off. We needed a cheap and reusable playing surface.

After some Google-fu, I found that there are very cheap methods for creating a table-top RPG gaming board using tileboard (also called shower panels). It functions as a dry-erase marker board and allows the Dungeon Master to draw (and erase) limitless quests. Tileboard can be found in 8'x4' sheets at your local "do-it-yourself" giant hardware store. 8'x4' is way too bulky to handle (or fit in a car) so I had the employees cut the board in half, giving me two 4'x4' squares.

The problem with using a dry erase marker board is that eventually every line you draw will degrade and rub off. This is important because Dungeons and Dragons combat is based on a 1"x1" grid system. Without the grid, it is really difficult to tell whether or not that pesky Kobold is within range of your Magic Missile.

To make your own fully-reusable tabletop surface you need:

  1. Tileboard, also referred to as "showerboard". My 8'x4' sheet for about $12.
  2. A utility knife
  3. A t-square/straightedge at least two feet long
  4. Tile board edging. The edging was located next to tileboard and was $3 for an eight foot rod. You need two rods to completely edge a single 4'x4' board.

The best solution is to cut the grid into the board. Take the T-square and utility knife (borrowed mine from my girlfriend) and cut a series of lines one inch apart to fashion your grid.

After you have etched the grid into your board, slide on the edging. Tileboard is rather cheap and will chip pretty easily if you don't protect it with plastic edging. For added glitz, we spray painted the edges sliver.

Total cost was $18 for a completely reusable gaming table-top that fits over Rockethaus' dinner table and turns a dining room into a QUESTING LOUNGE!

  1. Heh – Nice, and a whole lot cheaper than what we did! I'll have to remember this for if we ever really finish our gaming table.

    Our basement regularly hosts 6-8 players for table top games, so we bought a conference table top from our nearby Habitat for Humanity store, put it on top of a sturdy folding table for a base, and then bought a *huge* premade gridmat for over the top. The mat rolls up to store away, and we have a nice looking table for whenever we have lots of people over (or other games that don't require a grid). But we still want to transform it into an amazing gaming table.

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    • We did something very similar for our gaming table–we have a roll up mat over a large 8 person dining table, so that we can have non-gaming parties as well.

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  2. cool! our house came with a lot of the leftover supplies from previous awful remodels – including a chunk of plasticy fake-tile wall from the bathroom. i've been wondering how not to just trash all that (ugly) stuff. this is a thought. of course, i'll have to find someone to play with…

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    • (This is my D&D crew) I totally recommend it. I've always wanted to play D&D, and it's unabashedly crazy fun. It's like playing pretend, but as an adult.

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    • Lady brett that's my problem. All my real life friends don't want to play DnD and all my geeky friends are too far away.

      I did once try playing with my brother and sister but…let's just say if Monopoly typically ends badly DnD is not a game to attempt.

      Maybe I need to convince some of the guys at the comic shop to give it a go?

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  3. We have one of those glass coffee tables, so we used a big matting sheet (as in for framing paintings, my brother in law is an artist and this was his design,) drew a grid on it, and slid it *under* the glass part. It worked perfectly for us, we could take it out and look sane when not gaming and have a draw-on-able surface when gaming. The board being basically paper, it did get ruined eventually. Also there was that annoying gap between the glass top and the graph that would mess with where you though things were sometimes.

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  4. Nice! I love the idea of a gaming surface being something solid, and being able to control the size. My husband and I took a someone more storage-friendly approach for our tiny apartment. We took some standard graph paper to Staples, asked nicely if there was anyone there who played table-top or mini games (there were two guys more than eager to help out), and challenged them to turn that graph paper into a 1"x1" grid. It only ended up costing about $7 for them to blow up the paper we brought to a massive poster size and laminate it, and we opted to get a second one so that we could have two maps prepped at a time. Storage is a cinch, and by asking them to put the shiny side on the fron (not the back side of the image, which is apparently the industry standard), we got a dry- or wet-erase friendly surface that we can take to other friends' homes if they offer to host a game night, too.

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  5. Welcome to the awesome world of D&D! I love RPGs and could talk them all day.

    This is a really cool idea for a grid. Most of the groups I've played with have used Chessex Battlemats, which are great, but I like how this grid also doubles as a table-top if you don't have a large dining room table, and need to play on a smaller surface, like a coffee table.

    Unrelated to mats, if you're playing 4th edition, I highly recommend checking out a D&D Insider subscription on the Wizards of the Coast website, which gives your group access to several tools, including their handy character sheet builder. And if you're in the mood for D&D humor, look up Darths & Droids, which is a very funny web comic about the Star Wars movies being a D&D game run slightly amok.

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  6. This is PERFECT! I was trying to make a board for my boyfriend's birthday and this makes it easier. Thanks!

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  7. Our GM (We mostly play 7th Sea, which is an amazing system, though supposedly a D&D campaign may be happening soon, we'll see) just made an awesome gaming table. It has writing/rolling surfaces at custom heights for his various couches, chairs, etc, cupholders that double as dice bag holders, and the top has a piece of lift up plastic (I think it's thick vinyl) which he lifts up to put maps underneath, and then we can write on the surface using wet-erase markers. It's awesome. I love having the writable surface. It's great for keeping track of initiative without writing on then erasing on your character sheet millions of times.

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