Though all you really need at the table is some paper, pencils, and a few pairs of dice, I’ve found that each GM brings to the table her own special set-up. This is very much a matter of personal preferences, and your mileage may vary, but it’s always fun to see what other people use for what and “borrow” ideas accordingly. Here’s my bag of tricks, if you will:
As a fledgling writer and adventure designer, I have special notebooks that I use to keep my ideas, concepts, and story seeds in. Although a cheap marble composition book would work just as well, I like to splurge and get the moleskine notebooks because I prefer the ruling and they make me feel like my ideas are worth more.
I also keep an Evernote account for these purposes as well, since the app is loaded onto all my computers and smart devices and I can sync them all easily. Whether I go for the dead-tree or digital format really depends on whim but also on whether I foresee needing to copy/paste what I’ve written. If it’s ideas for an encounter in an RPG session later that day, the notebook serves me just as well. If I want to take those concepts or outlines and flesh them out into an actual adventure, Evernote is obviously the way to go.
Maybe one of these days I’ll bridge the divide and splurge on an Evernote moleskine that’s designed to work between both!
If I’m not using an adversary straight out of the book, index cards are my preferred way of condensing and collecting important NPC statistics to use during the game. I picked up a cheap plastic index card holder from Target during back to school season and it’s served amazingly well as a pocket bestiary of sorts. This way I can have a whole bunch of NPCs splayed out in front of me at the table, or they can take up minimum room off to the side somewhere. For me it’s easier than flipping through pages or constantly thumbing through my tablet at the table, which is better served for other purposes.
For my 22nd birthday I went ahead and got myself the Dungeon and City D&D Map tiles, and have supplemented them with the Deserts of Athas and Vaults of the Underdark sets. They’re amazing for throwing together cool looking maps on the fly and are of particular use with 4th edition games, though I have used them for Pathfinder and Savage Worlds combats as well. I try to buy pre-painted miniatures when they’re on sale, and though I have a healthy assortment of PC-type figures, I tend to rely on the D&D Essentials DMG kit tokens for my monsters. Of course, the tiles can’t beat the versatility of my Chessex battlemap, which needs something to burn off all the old marker traces at this point, but has still gotten me through many a game session back in the day.
For my 4th edition Marrakesh campaign I got a lot of use out of the Masterplan adventure design studio. Back in 2009 or so it was able to draw from the D&D compendium directly, but was later changed to be able to import the html of the 4e statblocks. It was a combination flowchart encounter maker and combat facilitator, and I almost bought a Windows surface tablet so that I could use it without my laptop.
I missed out on the Kickstarter but I’m still looking forward to RealmWorks by Lone Wolf Development, which they said would hopefully be out in October when I asked them at Gen Con. I like that it seems to take the ideas of Masterplan and integrate advanced notecard-style software that allows you fill out fields for characters, locations, and events, and link between them. I’ve seen people talk up Scrivener for campaign planning, but I find that the program works better for writing novels, personally.
The biggest revelation in my GMing life has got to be the customizable 3-panel GM screen I picked up at the Studio 2 booth at Origins. It fits three pages of landscape letter paper on both sides. I used it while running the first part of the WFRP 3rd edition adventure, The Enemy Within, and had GM cheat sheets on the back and three different sets of maps on the front: one for the Empire, one fan-made one for Averheim, and one of the docks from TEW book itself.
I like that I can scratch up notes on lined or graph paper and throw them in, or if I want to get fancy I can use Publisher or Indesign to make pretty tables and such. Better yet, a lot of companies offer their GM screens as PDFs at reduced prices, so I can print them off myself and save some money. And it’s great for budding game designers who want to showcase their new product (advertising on the players’ side) and keep their own system notes on the other. It’s a win-win for me and my players.
So those are my five essential tools and accessories. I didn’t include apps because I think that would warrant an entire post on its own, but that’s not a half-bad idea for the future. Thanks again for reading and participating, and I look forward to seeing your responses!
What are your favorite GMing tools or accessories? Link your answers in the comments below! You can find the rest of the 30 Days of Gamemastering Challenge prompts here. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on my favorite GMing tools or accessories.