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Part of our in-person tabletop group moved six hours away mid-campaign. We've been dealing with the distance by having multiple laptops set up, one with the players on the screen and the camera pointed at the DM; another with a webcam pointed at the grid board. However, this is awkward and results in a lot of "I move three squares left. No, the other left. No, one more square that way," or "Can you move the webcam so we can see?", etc.

We'd like to find a way for our remote players to reliably see the entire table at once, and to be able to point to specific squares on the board.

We're aware of online/virtual tabletops like Roll20, but we don't want to use them for various reasons. For the purposes of this question, we are only looking for real-world, meatspace solutions.

How can we allow our remote players to have:

  1. A top-down, or otherwise all-encompassing, view of a physical tabletop combat grid, such as one drawn on dry-erase dungeon tiles;
  2. The ability to indicate individual squares or other features on the grid?

Note: While my question is similar to this question, that one accepts virtual tabletop solutions and does not solve our problem.

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For remote play at our table, we use a camera that is stuck on a microphone-boom-arm that can be rotated by 360°. We found out that we prefer it to have our rest position at about 45°, instead of top-down because the top-down angle creates nausea for some of our players, and it simulates sitting at a table.

We use a 19 by 19 go-board with numbered and lettered tiles, so if a player wants to move they say:

I want to move to A 9, attack Goblin 3 with my sling, and then take cover behind the rock on B 9.

There are different kinds of boom-arms that you can use. We tested for a while. We now use one with a tripod stand as it is the most stable while remaining flexible as opposed to the mountable-holder that we initially fixed to our gaming-table.

For indicating features, we use a mix of miniatures that were part of the 2002 D&D boardgame by Hasbro and cardboard printouts that create terrain objects by sliding them together at a 90° angle with little plastic sockets, so they don't topple over.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A boom-arm is a great idea! I'm not sure about the numbered/lettered tiles though - we use the configurable map tiles linked in the question, so there isn't a consistent perfectly rectangular grid. Has your group worked with odd-shaped grids, and if so, were you able to make it work? \$\endgroup\$ – thatgirldm May 13 at 16:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thatgirldm: From the looks of that link those tiles still produce square based grids so numbering and lettering lines should still be easy enough. If you are talking about problems when your tiles are like a staircase then the same still applies. The numbering can happen as if you have a full square of stuff - you just can't necessarily put the labels all in a row.... \$\endgroup\$ – Chris May 13 at 16:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thatgirldm we have a cardboard cut out with little boxes on the side as platforms on a wall, but we haven't used that remotely. But we also have moments when 19 by 19 is too small, we directly add numbers and letters (or symbols if we are in the mood and the display is longer than 26). \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 13 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ReginaldBlue I'm uncomfortable sharing personal pictures on this site. We are using a Rhode boom-arm, a wooden go board and a Logitech C920(?) camera with a clip that you can attach to the boom-arm. So the boom-arm is about eye-height and pointed down in a 45° to show the board. You can easily move it around the whole board. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 13 at 16:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thatgirldm I am not experienced in remote DMing, but it is something I fear I will have to start doing this summer as one of my players moves out of town. I have done some remote playing, and it was not great. It seems to me you could use Akixkisu's tile numbering method on your dungeon tiles even if you don't confine yourselves strictly to the grid. A player saying "I move my character to the halfwall near A5" is still a major improvement over "I move my character to the halfwall on the left". \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener May 13 at 17:38
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The boom camera suggested by Akixkisu is a good way to solve the vision problem.

For directions as an alternative to the numbered grid I would suggest just defining N,S,E,W. "I move 3 squares west, 2 squares north, then attack the goblin" for example.

Since most directions are given relative to your current position you just need a clear way to indicate your movement relative to your current position and a big compass rose printout placed on the table will give that.

enter image description here

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Have you tried suspending a camera directly over the map? This wont give great details so you could also angle it a little. You can hang from from the ceiling or have some sort of stand to hold it.

I would also suggest labeling the board much like in chess so that a player could say "I move from A7 to B9" so there is less confusion.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Please note that we require users to back up their answers with citations and experience. Have you used these techniques yourself or seen them used? How did they work or not work? Please edit in some more information based on your experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 14 at 1:53

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