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The GM’s Side Table

How you set up your gaming area can be a very personal affair, and there are lots of great ways [1] to go about it.

For the past few years, though, I’ve found one element of my GMing setup that’s consistently been my favorite: The side table. It’s simple and versatile, if you’ve never tried it, I think you’ll like it.

Dig up a little coffee table, end table or even something that’s not quite a table, but works like one (last time around, I used a folding chair), and park it right next to your GMing chair.

If you use a GM’s screen, this saves real estate behind the screen — you can just stack your most-referenced books on the table next to you. If you have a few things to hide but don’t want your view of the players obstructed by a screen, you can even move your screen to the side table.

The space under the table can also come in handy: After putting the books I know I’ll need on my side table, I put the ones I think I’ll need, but that might never come up, underneath it. That way they’re near at hand, but not in my way.

This simple extension of my GMing space has made my life as a GM a lot easier, and if you haven’t tried this approach I encourage you to give it a shot — it might work very well for you, too!

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "The GM’s Side Table"

#1 Comment By DMN On May 19, 2006 @ 6:50 am

In my short career as a GM, I have never NOT used a side table. I DO use DM screens, one in front of me, and another in front of the stuff on the side table. I have a “bag of goodies” that I keep under the side table. Things that are on the side table are books necessary for the campaign, a bin of miscellaneous miniatures, pre-fabbed encounters w/ pre-planned miniatures, amongst other things like snacks.

I never considered it a tool, but it is very useful.

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On May 19, 2006 @ 7:09 am

Oooh the sidetable. It’s the first thing I ever learned about GMing. I always keep some stuff there, lower than the main table and out of sight. While I try to keep all my information in a binder (or laptop) and flip to the different things I need I find the side table to be my seperate GMing island. It’s where I roll the dice, set up things which I know will soon come into play and stack anything that I want to reveal, but not too soon.

#3 Comment By xcorvis On May 19, 2006 @ 7:55 am

What you REALLY want as a side table is a 2.5′-3′ rolling bookshelf with a wide, flat top. Ideally, it would have a small drawer at the top for all the little things, like dice, markers and chits. Just leave all your stuff in it all the time and roll it out when you need it.

#4 Comment By ScottM On May 19, 2006 @ 8:37 am

Yeah, I’m a long time lover of the side table. I’ve also used a love seat– sit on one cushion and stack books on the other– but the side table’s much handier.

At our place, the side table got grabbed as our fish tank support, so we’re making do with a couple of wire cubes.

#5 Comment By Sam On May 19, 2006 @ 8:46 am

I use one of those wooden collapsible TV trays as my side table. Works great.

Since they’re smaller, you can even set one up on either side of you if you wanted. That’s going hardcore geek in my book, but the idea of being surrounded by all that GMing goodness is awesome.

#6 Comment By DMN On May 19, 2006 @ 9:05 am

Oh, by the way, my side table is a standard card table.

#7 Comment By Gospog On May 19, 2006 @ 9:37 am

My side table is a broken folding chair. The backrest is broken, making it a perfect small table that’s not really any good to sit on anymore, anyway.

Use the side table for stuff the Players are allowed to see, like books. Then put secret stuff, like minis for monsters, behind the GM screens.

#8 Comment By DNAphil On May 19, 2006 @ 10:04 am

I have a rolling plastic cart with three drawers. I put my laptop, with my session notes on the top. I have PDF versions for all my books, so I rarely need to have a hard copy book at my side, I just open my PDF’s up before the game starts.

The first drawer of the cart, is full of dice and a wooden dice rolling tray, so that I can make my rolls in private.

The second drawer has Wet Erase and Dry Erase markers. The wet erase for the battlemat that sits in front of me on the main table, and the dry erase for the large dry erase board hanging behind me.

The third drawer has office supplies, such as paper, folders and such. That is mostly for storage, but I suspect, that If I wanted to, I could clear that and put any hard copy books in there.

In front of me on the main table, I have no GM screen. Just a small battlemat in front of me.

I am tinkering with some different ways to track Initative and Hit Points during combat. Right now I use a pocket journal, where I just write things down on the page. I ma toying with Initative cards, but I am not 100% sure about them yet.

The plastic cart I picked up at Target for like $20. When we are not playing, it is rolled into the corner for storage.

#9 Comment By Frank On May 19, 2006 @ 11:00 am

I started seriously using a side table in grad school in my apartment which had this reasonably comfy easy chair with wide flat arm rests. I would keep reference charts and such on the arm rests. Some stuff would be on the floor beside me also (it was low, partly because the legs had been broken off, so it was easy to reach stuff on the floor).

When I moved to my first job in North Carolina, I found two of my most heavily used yard sale finds. I Lazy-Boy chair (which is starting to seriously need replacement, or at least re-upholstering) and a TV cart that looks somewhat homemade. It has 3 walls with the 4th side open. The walls extend 3-4 inches above the top shelf, so the top shelf makes an excellent surface for keeping stuff and rolling dice, and the walls help keep a GM screen standing. The lower shelf has room for lots of books, or as I have it set up now, a set of stacking paper trays plus 10-15 books. The stacking paper trays have a tray for scratch paper, and two for game materials.

Since the Lazy-Boy is not too high, I also keep some notes on the floor beside me. I also have a lap desk (used to be a piece of plywood, now I use a flat metal sheet with some padding underneath, it was some kind of stove cover). My file box with game notes, character sheets, etc. sits nearby.

I also now have a plastic rolling cart with drawers for miniatures and other accessories.

I should take a picture of this setup.


#10 Comment By Martin On May 19, 2006 @ 2:49 pm

I knew this was a very basic tip, but I figured since I’d GMed for years without a side table, other folks might not have tried it yet.

Based on your comments, though, this is evidently a pretty popular option! 😉

#11 Comment By Troy Taylor aka Carolina On May 21, 2006 @ 5:52 pm

The side table has been a part of my GMing setup from the get-go. If I’m GMing somewhere new, and there’s not sidetable, then I pull up a chair and Presto! instant side table.

#12 Comment By Martin On May 22, 2006 @ 12:22 pm

I’m digging the side cart, Frank — I might have to invest in one of those myself!

#13 Comment By Alan Scott On May 22, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

Since my gaming table is so low to the ground (it’s a coffee table with a giant dry erase board sitting on top of it), I can just use the floor as my side table. I can keep books and things under the table and out of the way, and even set up my desktop computer partly under there. I’m also at a different level than most of my players, so they can’t really look over my shoulder or read my notes or anything like that. The only disadvantage is that I don’t get a chair, but I’m the sort of person who likes to sprawl out on the floor anyways.

#14 Comment By Frank On May 22, 2006 @ 1:59 pm

Of course you may have trouble finding that same cart since I think it was a home-built thing, either that or it’s a pretty old thing (it’s made of plywood – which seems unlikely for reasonably current stuff which would be out of that coated chipboard).

Alan, my table is low also, and sometimes I sit on the floor, and then yes, the floor space around me allows for lots of spreading out.