I love gaming goodies, tsotchkes, and widgets in all forms — special dice for each campaign, mascots, a wide range of miniatures, Tact-Tiles, piles of books…the more the better!

But when I’m GMing, I keep my side of the screen pretty lean. Here are the highlights — tools I consider essential to my GMing arsenal, and which I highly recommend for any GM (brand spanking new or grizzled veteran).

A watch

I’m not a big watch-wearer, but I always have one handy when I GM. Rather than wearing it, I set it off to one side behind my screen, where it sits just at the edge of my vision reminding me to keep the pace up, move the game along when I need to, and otherwise take real-world time into account during the game. (A clock works just as well, but for some reason I rarely wind up gaming in rooms with clocks.)

Maybe it’s just me, but I also prefer a watch to my cell phone. Fidgeting with my cell (to un-dim the screen so I can read the time) during a game feels rude, and I like having an always-on timepiece.

iPod with Custom Playlists

Out of the three regular GMs in my group, all of us do the same thing: create a custom playlist or two and plug our iPods into the gaming room’s speakers. It’s simple, but fantastic — and unless I’m playing at a convention, gaming without background music feels really weird to me now.

I wrote a whole article on creating custom gaming playlists that you might find useful. There are also two very nifty resources out there for getting new material: Sonic Legends and World oF Twilights.


Whether I’m GMing with adventure notes or without them, I always have a notepad behind the screen. It provides scrap paper, lets me track hit points, and most importantly, lets me take notes about all the fun stuff that happens during the game — things I’m almost certain to forget fairly quickly if I don’t write them down.

After the session, I holepunch my notes and throw them into the binder for that game (assuming I’m using a binder, which I usually do). I don’t worry about having a fancy notebook, since in this case it’s really just glorified scratch paper. (For fancy, I keep a little Moleskine for taking notes as a player.)

Dice in a Dice Tray

I know, I know: “Great advice, Ralya — I NEVER remember my dice…” It’s really the tray that’s key for me, but I also set out only the dice I plan to use so I don’t have to hunt among a huge pile in the heat of the moment. Keeping them in the tray helps me stay clutter-free, and rolling them in the tray means I don’t need a huge chunk of the table to myself.

I’ve heard different stories about whether the maker of my favorite dice trays, Dwarven Sweatshoppe, is still in business. Their website is gone, but a reader wrote to me a little while back asking questions about an order he was planning on placing with them, so maybe they’re still around. If you can find them, check out my review before you drop the best ~$30-$40 you’ll ever spend on a gaming tool.

Yes, That’s Really Everything

OK, I also have a pen back there with me, and dry-erase markers to use with my Tact-Tiles or our group’s whiteboard, but that’s really all I keep behind my screen when I GM.

I don’t know about you, but I find it’s a lot easier to keep multiple balls in the air when I’m not also fighting with a bunch of clutter, so a lean and tidy play space is a big help for me.

What do you keep behind your GMing screen? Are your favorite tools the simple ones, or do you go more for high-end stuff — like an overhead projector?

PS: If your gaming table is The Sultan (you rotten, rotten bastard), you MUST share a picture!