I’ve had a few folks ask me, here and at Gen Con, what I carry with me to GM. So I thought I’d give you a virtual tour of my GM kit. First thing to note, I don’t always carry this full kit with me to every session. What I take depends on the game I’m running, and to a lesser extent who I’m running it for. For instance, most of what you’ll see in the kit is focused towards Pathfinder RPG and other d20 style games, because right now that takes up the majority of my GMing time. But if I were running a Gumshoe system game, I’d take almost none of this kit. So depending on what you run, your mileage may vary.
We start with the case that holds the kit. I used to just pile everything into a book bag, but that led to a lot of digging during play and a cluttered table when I GMed, and I hated it. There are gaming specific toolboxes you can buy, ranging from $30-$100. Or you can grab a regular toolkit from a hardware store in the $20-$50 range. The kit I use today was a lucky Ikea find; I picked up two of these simple tool boxes for $5 a piece in the “as is” section. It has plenty of space for everything and makes finding items on the fly a breeze. I highly recommend something similar if you are putting together a kit of your own. And if you don’t like a hard case for your kit, get a bag with as many little pockets as you can find, to help keep things organized inside.
Next up, dice and counters. My dice travel in my stylish Dragon Chow bag, and the bag is spacious enough to carry 4-5+ sets comfortably. I used to carry a separate bag of dice to lend new players and such, but these days I have no problem just lending out “my” dice. The counters I use are glass beads from a now defunct gaming accessories company, but you can get coloured beads on the cheap from dollar stores or gardening centres. I use them for everything from Hero Points in Pathfinder, to representing minions on a map when I don’t want to dig out twenty goblin minis. If you have them , you’ll find a use for them.
I always have a variety of writing implements, both for my use and to share. It is especially important to carry extra pencils, because at least one player will forget. But I also have pens, markers, and dry erase markers in two sizes; the large dry erase are used to draw maps, the smaller to write on my combat pad or make notes on the map. It is important to note: DO NOT mix up your markers and your dry-erase markers (but if you do, rubbing alcohol will remove the ink with a bit of scrubbing). Include a pencil sharpener if you use regular old pencils like me, and a dry cloth (not shown) to erase your map/combat pad.
Speaking of maps and combat pads…okay we weren’t but we are now. I always try to pre-draw my maps on the 1″ square map pads you can get at the stationary store, or through Gaming Paper. But I also bring my dry-erase Flip Mat so I can draw a map on the fly in case the players go somewhere I wasn’t expecting. I also pack along my initiative tracking pad. The pad pictured is the new Pathfinder release of their original tracking pad, and having used it through a busy Gen Con I have to give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. It is wet/dry-erase safe and magnetic, and comes with magnetic tabs. You can also grab a 8″x10″ whiteboard from a stationary store if you’re on a budget. Besides initiative tracking, I sometimes jot down quick notes or reminders during play. And while many GMs push to get away from using screens, I find mine too useful to get rid of. I hang notes to myself on the inside, and items for the players (condition cards, pictures and so on) on the outside.
Next, I include a variety of useful stationary items: sticky pads, index cards, clips (both bulldog and paper), rubber bands…the list goes on. Basically, if you might find it useful during a day of working at a desk, I likely have at least one or two of it in my kit. Need to remind the party they are still suffering the effects of that curse? Write the effects on a sticky or index card and clip it to your GM screen. Use the index cards to write notes to the players. Or write “Invisible” on a sticky and attach it to a player to remind you his character is invisible (I’ve only done that last one once, but it helped). You won’t always need every item every session, but when you don’t bring it that’s when the need pops up.
And I always pack along the minis I need for each session in a plastic baggy so they don’t spill into the rest of the kit. Larger minis will just nestle in the bottom of the kit as needed. I try not to pack more than I need if I’m travelling to GM somewhere else, though I will bring extras. And as I said before, the glass counters make great impromptu minions if required.
Now we get into items that are Pathfinder related, so if you aren’t running Pathfinder they won’t be of much use. I have my special card decks from Paizo: Critical Hit, Critical Fumble, Condition Cards, and Buff Deck. The first two I use to spruce up critical hits and fumbles during combat. While I usually save them for important “boss” fights, players in my Pathfinder campaigns love the twists and turns they add to combat. Fumbles become especially feared and memorable, now that they aren’t just an auto miss. The condition cards cover all the negative conditions from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook that can afflict players; I’ll either hand the card to the player, or if it affects more than one, clip it to my GM screen so they can all see. Same with the Buff Deck, which covers all the most common spell and class ability buffs. I find these last two decks super useful, because they cut down on time spent flipping through books during the game. Which in turn means more chances for me to
torment my players mercilessly challenge my players.
Next are gewgaws and trinkets that definitely fall in the “your mileage may vary” category. I use some regularly, some not so much. But I pack them in the kit because when I need them, I usually really need them. At the top of the pic are my Dungeon Map and Hit Location randomisers. I try to be descriptive during combats, and the hit location die helps me come up with different body areas on the fly. The Dungeon Map die doesn’t get used as often, but I have had occasion to need a quickie five room dungeon, and it has saved my bacon. The metal squares are from Steel Sqwire and each has the necessary info for the effect stamped on it: Mounted Combat, Righteous Might, and Enlarge Person. Again, not always needed, but can be easily slipped under the affected mini and saves flipping through books for the needed effect. And I also have two sand timers, courtesy of Chessex. They arguably see the least use, but I have used them to great effect to move combat along or add tension during sessions (“You have until the sand runs out to disarm that trap…”). Worth it. I also bring my line-of-sight indicator (right), also from Steel Sqwire, to help avoid any arguments about who can see how much of whom. Basically, any gaming gewgaw that has a chance of keeping my game session running smooth will find its way into my kit.
And here we have the whole kit, loaded and ready to for a night of gaming awesome-sauce. With this kit plus my laptop with all my session notes and rule books, I’m ready for just about anything my players throw at me. Oh, players throwing things, another good reason I use a GM screen…
Do you have a GM kit? Or a must-pack item for either playing or GMing? Drop it in the comments below.