Last time I talked about the need to learn how to GM the new game you are running. This time, I wanted to look at another aspect of running a new game: GMing Gear. That is, what gear do you need to bring to the table as a GM to run the game? Having the right gear to ease the play of the game is an important component to running a good game. If done well, your games will run smoothly, whileÂ done without thought and you may be stumbling through your sessions.
Your GMing Gear
Let’s put this on the table: I like GMing gear, and I like to think about what I am going to use when I game. I was one of those kids who would get excited just before school started because it meant I could go to the store and buy all new school supplies (yes I had a Trapper Keeper…several of them).
Not everyone has the same passion or need for GMing gear. What you need is going to be a combination of the needs of the game you are running, and your personal preferences. Your goal is to have enough gear to run your game effectively, to facilitate a positive experience for you and your players at the table. That said, there is no reason not to have some cool stuff…if you are into that.
So what is GMing gear: at its most basic we are talking about the simple things like dice, your physical session prep, and something to write with. Getting more sophisticated, we can be talking about things like: GM screen, dice tower, dice tray, reference sheets, index cards, Fate coins, Alea Magnets, miniatures, terrain, etc. Then we get to the advanced stuff like: props, display monitors, projectors, etc.
It’s A Form Of Prep
In Never UnpreparedÂ I said: The goal of prep is to give the GM a level of comfort through the understanding that all the information they need to run the game as smoothly as possible is readily at hand. Stretching that definition a bit, our GMing gear is also required to create a level of comfort to allow the game to run smoothly.
Let’s take as an example the case where you are running a complex combat scene, and the description you are giving of the area is not enough for the players to follow you; people are getting confused, and play is stalling. If you have a flip mat among your GM gear, and some markers, you can draw a map and get everyone on the same page.
Figuring out your gear
There are two things to take into consideration when putting together your GMing gear: the things the game needs, and the things you like/want.
Needs of The Game
The game you run may require a certain amount of gear. This is often defined in the rules. Fate Core says that you need: Fate dice, Tokens for Fate Points, and Index cards (optional). Pathfinder with its tactical combat will need some kind of map and some kind of representation of the PCs and NPCs.
Notice I did not say that Pathfinder needs miniatures, just representations. Often we fall into the trap of thinking of some things as needs, when they are wants. Don’t have mini’s? Just use a die to represent everyone.
Things you Like and Want
Let’s face it, minis and other more elaborate trappings are cool. So, when you consider the other things you want for your GMing kit, allow yourself to consider those more elaborate solutions. Here are some things you might want to consider:
- GM Screen – published, generic, homemade.
- Dice Tray or Dice Tower
- Miniatures, Figure Flats, Markers
- Reference Sheets (For Dungeon World I always have a set of the Basic Move sheets in report sleeves for the table.)
- Tokens, Poker Chips, Fate Coins
- Second monitor
- Digital Map (check out the homemade one that Jolly Blackburn made)
Example: For my Fate games, my GMing Gear (needs and wants) includes:
- Fate Dice (multiple sets)
- Fate Coins
- Notepad flip mat
- Dry Erase Markers
- Fate Reference Sheets
- Dry Erase notecards (home made or these cool cards from All Rolled Up [LINK]).
- iPad (holds my PDF version of the rules and my session notes)
How to Pack It
Once you have your gear selected, you have to figure out how to store it and get it to the game. What you want is something that keeps all the parts together, so that you do not misplace any components between games. There are numerous solutions for this and it will depend on where you game.
At Your House
If you primarily game at home, then your needs for storage can be somewhat lax. You can put everything on the same shelf in your game room, or in a drawer in the cart by your gaming table. It can be loose or kept in a box. Worst case, you have to run to the next room to grab something.
Playing Somewhere Else
If you primarily game outside of your home, at a friend’s house, at a game night, or a public place, your needs are a bit more complex. Besides keeping everything together, you will need your gear to be portable, and easy to carry. You might have a GMing bag, or a Really Useful Box Â to keep things organized.
This is a specialized version of the example above, but one worth considering. Conventions often require you to traverse longer distances to get to your game, and to carry your gear for longer times depending on how easy it is to get back to your room/car. For conventions, you want your gear compact and as light as possible.
My Fate Gear
I have a reliable setup for how I pack my GMing gear for when I run at my house or locally. I use a Really Useful Box to keep everything organized. The box is a bit large, and so its not the easiest to take for conventions.
This box holds a lot of things including: Fate Coins, a 4×6 GM screen, Story Forge Cards, Index cards, laminated index cards (for Fate), Short Order Heroes, Noteboard, Fate Cards, dry erase pens, dry erase eraser, etc.
I have been working with the awesome folks at All Rolled UpÂ to come up with a compact setup for convention play. Here is what they came up with:
While the convention set has less things than my home kit, it contains all the essentials for running a Fate game: Fate coins, ARU wipeable cards (small and large), Noteboard, and dry erase markers. Â The box is light and compact and will fit easily in my convention bag.Â
Bling It Out
Having the right gear to make you and your players comfortable running the game is one of the keys to having a successful session. There is the gear we need to run the game and then there are the things we like to have on our side of the table. Having the best gear is great, as long as we can get it to our game, and so we have to think about how to store and carry it around.
What gear do you need for your game? What gear do you like to have at all your games? What is your most expensive piece of gear? What is the piece you are the most proud of?
This is really cool, but do you have set ups for other games? It would be awesome to see a comparison of FATE to Savage Worlds or Pathfinder or Shadow Run or another game. FATE tends to require far less stuff and really doesn’t need many wants to be amazing.
My Savage Worlds setup had the following: Mini clay poker chips, two decks of cards, a 4Ã—6 GM screen, Story Forge Cards, Index cards, laminated area templates for SW, Short Order Heroes, Noteboard, Alea magnets, character tokens, dry erase pens, dry erase eraser, etc.
That’s why I tend to go with rules light games. Four dice, a pencil, and my notes, and a 20-30 page pdf on my android in case I need to look something up.
I have been looking for a better box than the one I have for Fate games right now. Do you have a link to the box you use so I could buy one myself?
Our game master is huge on using Alea Tools. We really like them as players too, and how he uses them for our games.
Just this last session, we also made a huge effort to add audio to our game session. We added both ambient audio in the background and different sound effects. We really enjoyed it and will probably be working that aspect into our gaming on a permanent basis. We felt it REALLY added a lot to our games.
One of my favorite ways to “bling out” my GM’s kit is to have cool in game currency (fate points, bennies, what have you).
For Mouse Guard I use in-the-shell hazelnuts, pecans, and red pecans for fate points, persona points, and checks. I use setting appropriate bennies for Savage Worlds. I like 9mm and .22 bullet casings for Deadlands, and skull beads or plastic gold coins for Solomon Kane.