As GMs we tend to create a “toolbox” for managing our games and campaigns with. This toolbox changes and evolves over time. The toolbox is often eclectic in what it holds, with tools as simple as GM screens to high technology solutions like online databases. You can build a great game experience with just the raw materials of friends and a game system, but it is lot easier when you have the right tools for the job.
Here are five of my favorite GMing tools for your consideration.
- Dice Cup & Tray – Some might think it is frivolous to have a special cup for rolling the bones with, and just to throw them into a special tray no less! Well I have found that my dice cup and tray have other benefits. When I drop a couple of dice into that cup and start rattling them the players hear the sound and focus their attention on me quicker than Pavlov’s dog salivates to the sound of a bell. And thanks to the tray I no longer suffer from stray dice falling off of the table. Plus the tray is a great place to hide my next favorite tool under.
- Colored Index Cards – PCs stats, NPC stats, encounter notes, and items of treasure. Assigning a color to each of these categories and then putting all of the information onto a colored index card can make organizing your game a great deal easier. I especially like to use my inkjet printer to print on the back side of a card the stats and details of magic items or gear that the players might find while adventuring. There is something to be said about adding the tactile element of handing the player an object when their character discovers a cool item in the game. Plus colored index cards are an inexpensive way for players to keep track of powers in D&D 4e.
- Virtual Index Cards – Why use index cards only in the cold confines of reality? These versatile little buggers have infiltrated the virtual world too! If you are a Windows XP or Vista user and use a PC to manage your games with check out Text Block Writer, a free program that simulates index cards that you can drag and drop as well as place on different pages. I purchased Text Block Author, a more advanced version with some additional features, and I use it to plan and run my games with on my tablet notebook.
- Sticky Page Markers – Just like sticky notes but in the form of thin stips of paper, these easy to apply and remove pieces of paper are about 3 inches long and less than a half inch wide. Available in a variety of colors from different manufacturers they are meant to be used as bookmarks that you can write notes on. Now you can use them that way to mark pages in the rules book and such, but where they really shine is with miniatures! If you have a dozen identical miniatures on the battle mat it is easy to lose track of which one was hit for 4 points of damage or which one is held. Take a page marker and apply to the bottom of the miniature’s base and then assign it a unique number. Now you know that #7 takes acid damage each round and that #3 is the one that went berserk on its last turn. Just another example of how we gamers look at every day items and think “I can use those for next week’s game session!”
- 3D Cardstock Models & Terrain – I own many vinyl battle mats, including one that I made myself for $7 (that is an article for another day though). A good battle mat is another wonderful GMing tool that I can not say enough good things about, but when I really want my game to have an extra kick I build the scenery out of cardstock. Why just draw a dungeon map on a battle mat when you can actually build the dungeon instead? You need to invest some time into cardstock models, but they are relatively cheap and easy to assemble. Fat Dragon Games is one of my favorite producers of cardstock models for gaming, but there are many great products out there from several different companies. If you have problems with the cardstock models falling over use foamboard to add weight to the bases, or do what I do and buy some Glue Dots of the removable variety to apply to the base of the model. That way the model will just stick to whatever surface you place it upon.
There you have some of my favorite GMing tools. What are some of yours? Be sure to share your own tips and tricks with the Gnome Stew community by leaving a comment below. Remember that the GM is a player too, so always make sure that you get your share of the fun at the table!