Zero Charisma DM

DM / GM Prep and Game Aids

DM / GM Prep and Game Aids

This article is about being a DM/GM and some basic prep/game aids that will make your life easier and more organized when running the game. We all have busy schedules with work, family, and other obligations so having some basic tools and systems in place will help you enjoy gaming vs. spending time during game doing prep work or looking for basic info. For many folks with busy schedules, game time is their only personal time and time to escape. Maximizing that time is important.

If you play online with like Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds, those platforms already have many things prepped for you like dice, character sheets, maps, managing combat initiative, monster/enemy stats etc. which is great. There are still things that you need to manage or if you play pencil/paper, you’ll need to manage yourself.

I’m an engineer in my day job so we try to find the most efficient way of doing stuff cuz we’re lazy. We’ve looked at Kaizen principles to try to reduce inefficiencies and improve work processes. It’s the same with game. I want to spend more time gaming / role playing especially during a game session and less time on mechanics or things that don’t add value and take away from gaming. I like being organized and prepared to enable efficiency. (my personal style – you can operate in whatever fits you and your game group)

Most of my games are pencil/paper on Discord. These are basic tools I have ready before game starts. I have a bag with all this stuff together (if playing at someone else’s place before Covid) or everything is located together in a pile on my game table (at home play or online play). Each game has its own folder of paper and pile of books. Shared stuff like dice/pencils are in its own bag. In the future when I have more time, I may spend some time learning the online platforms.

Listed below are items that I have found helpful to make my life easier. I’ll got into more details on each section after the lists. Some of these probably seem obvious – it’s a checklist that I use.

Must Have Basics – Priority 1

  • Set of Dice / Dice rolling app
  • Pencil / Eraser / Pen
  • Blank sheets of paper
  • Game Notes for session
  • Module / Adventure
  • Core Rule books
  • All relevant PDFs open on computer if playing online or if core books are digital
  • Anything else that you might need to enable use of above items

Nice to Have – Priority 2

  • Multiple sets of dice (more d20 dice if playing d20 game or d10 if Chaosium BRP etc.)
  • DM/GM Screen for that game system
  • Dice tower / dice tray
  • Summary sheet with all character names, player names, critical attribute stats, AC/HP, etc.
  • Summary sheet for NPC hirelings, Major Enemies, Bosses with same above stat info
  • Spell cheat sheet with all player’s spells listing spell effects, damage, duration, etc.
  • Monster stat sheet for major monsters to be encountered in that game session with HP avg
  • Tick mark sheet to track monster HP/damage
  • Round / Turn / Hour / Day tracker
  • Campaign book for your group
  • XP tracker sheet (track XP of monsters defeated, treasure found, milestones)
  • Drinks/snacks
  • Calculator

Nice to Have – Priority 3

Some of these are more ambience creating items.

  • Battle / Hex Map
  • Dry erase markers
  • White board
  • Dry eraser / wet towels
  • Character mini figures
  • Monster mini figures
  • Background game music / sound effects (eg. Weather sound effects, haunted music, etc.)
  • 3D scenery for game map (dungeon tiles, 3D dungeon furniture, etc.)
  • Tables of NPC names
  • Tables of Inns/Tavern/Town names
  • Tables of encounters
  • Tables / cards of Traps (I’m not a major trap guy so don’t have this)
  • Critical Hit/Critical Fail tables/cards
  • Extra session map printed out

Must Have Basics – Priority 1

Dice / dice app

I’m a little OCD so will have all my dice separated out by type before game. Saves time from digging thru a dice bag looking for another d20 or 5-d6.

Pencil / Eraser / Pens / Extra Paper

Like in school, you can keep everything in a pencil box or bag. I have a folder of extra loose leaf paper in my bag or next to my game desk. I also use plastic project cases to store everything for the game (pens, pencils, paper, GM screen, dice). Japanese stores also have great office supply products.

https://www.amazon.com/IRIS-Portable-Project-Buckle-Clear/dp/B01H2NWJR4/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=plastic+binder+box&qid=1608868608&sr=8-1

Game Notes

I usually have my game notes scribbled onto loose leaf vs. in bound book like a composition or campaign book. I map out all the major events, connections, scenes, how each scene leads in and connects to the next, etc.  Some like going with the flow and making stuff up on the fly. I prefer having the major plot line outlined so I can see how the scenes connect together to have a better cohesive story. I’ll be writing a separate article griping about how modules could be better organized in future.

Modules / Adventure

I prefer having a hard copy of the adventure or digital copy with map printed out and personal game notes.  If you are running your own adventure, having the skeleton of major events and map drawn out before game is important again to having a cohesive story.

Core Rule books

You should have the Core books: GM guide, Bestiary guide, Player’s manual at hand at minimum. Multiple copies of Player’s guides can be helpful for those that don’t have at the table or didn’t bring. Sourcebooks and supplements critical to that adventure should also be at hand. For digital versions, I have the relevant PDFs open before game starts on my computer. Hunting for files on your HD takes time away from game as well.

Nice to Have – Priority 2

Multiple sets of dice / dice app

Having multiple sets of dice will make things move quicker when you have any qty. of monsters attacking your party. Rolling multiple dice at once vs. rolling your only d20 dice like 10 times.

Dice tower / dice tray

I hate chasing dice that roll off the table. It takes time going crawling around under the table looking for that dice in the corner under a bookshelf. I actually got a poker table to game on so ppl could roll their dice without losing them. A dice tower or tray also serves same purpose of containing your dice roll at the table.

DM/GM Screen for that game system

Having all the tables and charts and other handy info right in front of you saves you time from having to look up stuff in the core books. A worthwhile investment to have the publisher made screen or print out your own screen tables.

The next several items you can download example sheets for free at Basic Fantasy Role Play page. (scroll to bottom of download page)

https://www.basicfantasy.org/downloads.html

Summary sheet with all character names, player names, critical attribute stats, AC/HP, etc.

Having all the character info on 1 sheet will save you time on checking things like names, classes, DEX, AC, Saving throws. Having to ask for everyone’s DEX for initiative checks and AC for combat is a waste of time. Those don’t typically change every game. You usually only have to update this sheet at level ups. Also makes it convenient if you need to run one of the characters as an NPC if the player couldn’t make it that session.

Summary sheet for NPCs hirelings, Major Enemies, Bosses with same above stat info

Same as above. Having a stat sheet for all the NPC Hirelings and Major Enemy/bosses will save you time. You should have at least AC, HP, attacks/dmg lined out in sheet for them. You don’t need a stat sheet for the Joe the Bartender NPC that you may only have 5 min encounter with, but you will need one for Joe the Mercenary Thief that is working for your party or Joe the evil Wizard that you have to defeat at the top of the black tower. You don’t want to be picking out spells and rolling for HP for Joe the evil Wizard in the middle of the game.

Spell cheat sheet with all player’s spells listing spell effects, damage, duration, etc.

I hate looking up spells in the middle of combat to see damage and impact area. Having a sheet that lists spell level, effect, damage, duration, radius, etc.  You can google spell fillable sheets. Below is link to an example.

https://olddungeonmaster.com/2014/09/13/dd-5e-spellbook-cards/

Monster stat sheet for major monsters to be encountered in that game session with HP avg

I don’t like looking up monster stats in middle of the game. (probably sensing a theme here)  For some games, I’ll make a PDF or .ppt with all the monster stats already laid out. Other times, I’ll just have page number and which bestiary listed in my game notes. (we play OSR so we pull monsters from all the OSR bestiaries – not just the core game bestiary). You can also use one of the cheat sheets for monster stats (above BFRP link). I also usually have the HP for the monsters lined out. I’ll take max HP for 1 of them (ie. the leader) and 50% to 75% of max HP for the others pending # of the monsters, how powerful relative to party, etc. Be familiar with monster’s basic defenses, attack/dmg, special abilities. (ie. resistant to edged weapons, 2 slashing attacks at 1d6 dmg, flyer).

Tick mark sheet to track monster HP/damage

This is very convenient in tracking monster damage. Just cross of the damage as the monster takes it. No need to do math. Its all right in front of you. It also makes it hard for players to guess how much HP the monster has left. I’ve seen games where players have view of the DM’s notebook (when DM wasn’t using a screen) so they could see the HP numbers written down as combat went along. There is a blank sheet in the above BRFP download link. You can also set up a digital spreadsheet with formulas to auto-calculate if playing with laptop.

Round / Turn / Hour / Day tracker

Tracking duration of events is important. For example, spell durations, temporary effect duration, travel time, etc.  I have a sheet just with boxes numbered 1-12 as round or hour tracker.

Campaign book for your group

Having a campaign book to keep track of the history of your adventures helps with story continuity and world building. You don’t have to remember important NPC names, big events or small events that happened 4 adventures ago, track group artifacts / strongholds, reoccurring adversaries, etc.

You can purchase one from the links below or use any of the free ones out there. Free link via BFRP downlink earlier. Or make your own with relevant info that you want to track.

https://urbanrealms.com/product/dungeon-chronicle/

https://urbanrealms.com/product-category/gaming-supplies/

XP tracker sheet (track XP of monsters defeated, treasure found, milestones)

Calculating XP at end of the game is a pain in the ass. I tend to use milestone level advancement or assign XP value for the overall difficulty / length of each module. Having a tracking sheet for XP during game will make your life a lot easier if you hand out XP old school. Having a sheet with blocks to write down all the monster XP that the party defeated and treasure that the party finds will make the calculation a lot easier. You can also assign a player as scribe to track this info for you if you don’t want to do it. If you track it digitally on a spreadsheet program, it will be even faster.

Drinks/snacks

Cuz you can get thirsty talking all the time cuz you’re the DM. Snacks cuz you get hungry.

Calculator / app

Cuz sometimes you gotta do maths.

Nice to Have – Priority 3

Some of these are more ambience creating items.

If you play in person (hopefully after COVID), then having a battle map and minis is nice to help with visualization of the game. (playing online via Roll20/ Fantasy Grounds – has these built in)                   I personally enjoy minis having grown up with like Warhammer 40K.

  • Battle / Hex Map
  • Dry erase markers
  • White board
  • Dry eraser / wet towels
  • Character mini figures
  • Monster mini figures
  • Background game music / sound effects (eg. Weather sound effects, haunted music, etc.)
  • 3D scenery for game map (dungeon tiles, 3D dungeon furniture, etc.)

These are more game aids to make your life easier. Coming up with names on the fly that fit in the region / universe is always tricky. Having these game aids add more flavour and uniqueness to your game. Many publishers have these tables. Reference earlier blog article on Roll & Play game accessory. Frog God Games, Nord Games, Loresymth, Philip J. Reed, Flying Buffalo – all put out nice supplements and game aids.

  • Tables of NPC names
  • Tables of Inns/Tavern/Town names
  • Tables of encounters
  • Tables / cards of Traps (I’m not a major trap guy so don’t have this)
  • Critical Hit/Critical Fail tables/cards
  • Extra session map printed out

https://loresmyth.com/allproducts/

https://nordgamesllc.com/shop/

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/16363/Philip-Reed-Games?term=philip+reed

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse.php?keywords=flying+buffalo&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto=

Posted by Leonidas

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