Top 5 Constraints: D&D Hardware and Pivoting

Featured Image: A custom DM screen from Wyrmwood

After developing and prioritizing my main constraints I began to realize something: the process of producing a quality D&D table is extremely expensive. Price is one my my main constraints for this project and more so due to a recent car-related financial crisis. These tables can be produced for as low as $150 if everything is done right but there are some major components that would have to be below a reasonable standard of quality to reach that price and that $150 would not include the price of failing at any point down the like like buying the wrong wood stain or making the wrong cut. Additionally, I’ve made some modifications to the table that I have in my D&D space to add dynamic lighting and ambience so that it serves adequately as a D&D table for the time being.

These combined factors lead to the following decision: I’m going to pivot the focus of this project, but only slightly. I’m still going to be working on a piece of hardware that is central to the tabletop experience: The DM Screen.

The DM (Dungeon Master) screen is a staple of tabletop RPGs and can be transported to any house D&D (or other tabletop games) is being played at. Custom versions of these screens are often made of wood and are decorated with similar artwork to that of D&D tables. This project feels much more feasible while still incorporating the same aesthetics, same dynamic lighting elements, and the same space.

The following are my main constraints for my custom DM screen:

1. Price

The financial life of a student is often a difficult one and I am no different. I want to minimize price without significantly compromising quality. This means focusing on relatively inexpensive or common hardwoods like maple or oak while avoiding lower quality woods like pine and expensive woods like walnut. The price of lighting elements has to be considered here too, dynamic lighting with high quality LEDs sounds nice but it has to be weighed against the financial cost. Fortunately, manufacturing costs can remain extremely low due to the ample resources provided by the ITLL.

2. Portability

DM screens are always designed to be fold-able and transported to wherever you plan on running a game of D&D (or another tabletop game). Thick wooden reliefs and heavy hardwoods sound like a good idea until you have to carry the screen up three flights of stairs to your friends house to run a session of Storm King’s Thunder. Furthermore, the thickness of each of the panels in the screen needs to remain low so that the screen can always fit into a backpack or carrying case with all of the other D&D related goodies. The default DM screen has a panel thickness of about 2mm and a complete folded thickness of 10mm. I’m willing to go larger than this but I do not want the final product to be any thicker than the D&D player’s handbook which has a thickness of just over 20mm.

3. Durability

A good screen can get tossed around when setting up a game or ending the session as well as surviving transit inside a bag full of other things like books, miniatures, and dice without scratching heavily or losing its luster. Knowing that this object will be made of wood I have to then focus on hardwoods that will be much more resistant to scratching, but also something that will take, and keep, a stain well. The wood I choose would also have to be significantly moisture resistant if I want the thinner panels to resist warping over time. Maple seems like a solid fit for this.

4. Aesthetic

The aesthetic I am aiming for in this is similar to the aesthetic I was planning for my D&D table, a rustic fantasy aesthetic combined with some dynamic lighting for ambience. This can easily be achieved with stained wood combined with laser cutting/engraving. This aesthetic does the best with dark woods or woods that take dark stains well. this is where I may have a problem with the maple wood that I have favored for other constraints as it tends to be “splotchy” when applied with a dark stain.

5. Lighting

The lighting elements for this screen are twofold. Firstly, the lighting in the rest of my D&D room is designed to be dynamic and changes in both brightness and color with the scene the DM is trying to set. It is important that if the screen has any lighting elements that these can also be adapted to the ambience of the room to help set the scene. Secondly, I’ve been having some issues lately with lighting at the top of the table in my D&D room, during darker scenes it is becoming difficult for people to read their character sheets. I would like to have an element that can help light the rest of the table, but this is entirely secondary to the rest of the deign of the screen.

Ultimately I’m extremely happy with this pivot and I think it will be helpful in ensuring the success of the project in this tight timeline.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Justin Engbrecht
    March 4, 2020 10:27 pm

    Hello Patrick!

    I think pivoting in this way is a wise decision. I think making a large table alone would be quite the undertaking for the main project of this course, and you were planning to add intricate decoration and all the necessary detailing to function for D&D campaigns.

    Regarding the project moving forward, I think there is a lot of potential innovation in making the DM screen portable and durable. Do you have any unique ideas for a way to fold the screen? Will you follow the folding functionality of the screen shown as your featured image, or spend some time researching other options?

    • Patrick Bodine-Ellison
      March 5, 2020 11:28 pm

      The method of folding is something that I have been thinking a lot about. I’ve actually been looking into something called a “living hinge” which involves making a hinge out of the same material as the rest of an object. Living hinges in wood look really cool and could easily be laser cut into thinner woods.


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