Before moving away from my Dungeons & Dragons gaming group, I enjoyed the unique privilege of routinely playing sessions on The Ultimate Gaming Table. The purveyor of the “Avenger” table also hosted a huge assortment of miniatures and terrain, and I no longer have those tools at my disposal. The task I set for myself – now that I’m firmly on the ground in my new surroundings – was to purchase or build a gaming table for my house.
I briefly flirted with the notion of buying one of the amazing Geek Chic tables for the targeted gaming space. Even their “less-expensive” models are north of $2,000 so while it was fun to daydream about the Emissary in my house – it was never a realistic option. As I was lamenting the cost of a gaming table in a conversation with my wife she provided the following support, “I will help you decoupage our old table.” I began to think about how her idea might provide a “gaming” table that was not just a space to draw grids and maps but a proclamation of my nerd interests and a celebration of artwork I adore from old D&D modules. The following post provides a step-by-step guide for how to build your own eye-popping, inexpensive gaming table for less than $50 through the wonders of decoupage.
Find a table. If a sturdy table is not in your possession, then cruise garage sales or Craigslist to find a suitable option. The table I used for the project was a kitchen table that was purchased from Target by my wife over 10 years ago. I took apart the table and sanded it down to create a smooth and clean surface so it was easier to glue and secure the layers of paper. The sanding part of the project took a couple of hours in the garage with a power sander we already owned. Depending on the circumstances, the cost of the table might be negligible if it is already available. If a table is not available, one could buy a sheet of plywood and use that as an alternate surface for any existing table in your home.
Gather the media. I originally thought about buying old modules at secondhand book stores or online sites. This would have been an expensive option as even old modules in bad condition still cost at least five dollars. I also had mixed feelings about cutting up an old gaming book – it just seemed wrong! So I did a Google search for cover art and found good quality scans of the covers for most of the modules I wanted; RPGNow and similar stores were especially useful in this phase of the project. I already owned several electronic versions of select modules, and that was another source of content for the decoupage project. I decided to stick with an “old school” D&D theme but there is no reason one could not create a similar table based on Pathfinder or any other game system – or go crazy with a personalized combination of favorite board- and roleplaying-games.
I went through Kinkos to print two modules and about 25 covers. I selected a regular stock of Tan Antique paper for the text from inside the modules to give the paper a weathered feel; I had the store print the text in black and white. I asked them to print out the cover images on a thicker white cardstock in color. The cost for printing was approximately $40, although I printed out too many covers and did not use all of them on the table.
Get the decoupage products. Since I never engaged in such an artistic endeavor, I searched online for how to decoupage. I learned that I needed to buy some materials from a local craft and/or hardware store. I first bought a 16 oz. bottle of Mod Podge Matte for $7.99 and a Mod Podge Foam Brush Set for $1.99; these were used to apply the paper to the table. I then bought an 8 oz. can of Varathane Polyurethane Matte for $5.76 to seal the table and several $1 brushes to apply the sealer.
Create a design. I knew I wanted to feature the art from some of the most well-known modules from the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. I consulted a few “Best Modules” lists and ultimately used this blog post as a source for decisions about the modules that should be featured. As much as I tried, some modules did not have a high-quality image online, and that eliminated some contestants. I searched for a good image of the Tomb of Horrors cover without success so I returned to Kinkos and had them scan and print a color copy of the cover from my physical copy, which worked extremely well. I also could not find a good image for Ravenloft so I had Kinkos scan and print the cover of the module I won at Gen Con 2012 that was handed to me by Chris Perkins. So basically – this means Mr. Perkins has blessed this table. Amen.
The final design for my decoupage gaming table shifted over time. I originally thought the surface of the table would only consist of covers from old Dungeons & Dragons modules. However, I liked the idea of having the foundation be pages from inside the modules with art and text from the covers being layered on top. I stumbled onto this idea by sheer practicality – the heavier cardstock I used for the cover of each module would have been a nightmare to bend and adhere to the corners of the table. The corners were still a major hurdle with regular paper but at least it was manageable.
After the layers of module pages were adhered to the table, I experimented with different layout designs for the art. I once again consulted my wife and we agreed that less of the covers was more – meaning instead of applying the entire cover from each module it would look better if I cut out the art and text from each cover. Because I ran out of the text-based module pages, certain areas of the table still were visible and those needed to be covered first with art and/or text.
This part of the table-making process was fun but also a bit anxiety producing since once I glued something onto the table – it was permanent! I tried to change the way each piece of art from the modules was cut to give it a bit more personality. For example, I attempted to cut the art from The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror into a formation that resembled a shattered mirror. In a similar vein, I chopped up the heroes in Tomb of Horrors since that is how that module treated characters – they died, and they died hard. I selected fun scenarios presented on the covers of select modules and the logos from Dungeons & Dragons, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and TSR. I made sure to keep the old Gen Con ad from the pages in The Village of Hommlet visible.
You can take a tour of the table in the video below!
The table was first used this past week for Settlers of Catan, and it worked quite well. And it was able to fend off a spill of red wine that I did not discover until the next morning. It wiped right off without a stain (thank goodness). And special thanks to my wife who came up with this idea in the first place.