A question I come across a lot is, “What do you use when running games? What’s in your GM bag?” Many of us love to peek at the doodads and fiddly bits other GMs bring to the table, so rather than continuing to answer the question over and over, I thought I would post the exhaustive, near-fetishistic, guide to my GM kit (including links to where I bought the items, when applicable. There is also a follow-up to this post with some extra goodies).
Naturally, things get swapped out here and there, but for the most part I’m really happy with my current satchel of GM-goodness — I can grab it and scurry off to a game at a moment’s notice, secure in the knowledge that I’ll have everything I need when I get there.
First, the case itself.
This thing is roomy and tough. According to my bathroom scale, the whole bag weighs in at 33 pounds when fully loaded! But the handle hasn’t pulled off (though I do try to be careful, just in case), and it has an extending handle so you can roll it on its wheels whenever possible.
Inside lurks a cornucopia of useful tabletop gear and doohickeys. It’s a pretty tight fit, kind of a Tetris puzzle sometimes, but everything does fit nice and snug.
Disgorging the contents onto my table, this is where we get to the good stuff.
Starting at the upper left corner and working in a rough clockwise circle, this is the stuff I gear up with before games like Schwarzenegger in “Commando.”
- GURPS 4th Edition (upper left corner). A combined single volume of both the Characters and Campaigns books that I printed through Lulu, as detailed here.
- Personal Fan. I get warm when GMing, especially at conventions where we are all often packed together in small, stuffy rooms. This fan runs on 2 “D” batteries, is quiet enough to not be intrusive to the game, and small enough to not be distracting.
- Tascam DR-05 Digital Recorder. When possible, I record my home games (though not convention games — too noisy). This can be useful when writing up game notes later and for finding ways to improve. The sound quality on this unit is really great, and it easily holds (multiple) 6-hour game sessions.
- Graphing notebook and yellow legal pad for notes.
- Page-sized magnetic whiteboard with colored markers (for tracking initiative order or quick diagrams).
- Portable Table (upper right corner). Like many items in my GM kit, it may seem a bit of overkill to carry around my own table. But when it’s all collapsed and packed up, the footprint is very small (not much bigger than a GURPS hardcover) and having an extra shelf right next to me that can hold books, dice, notes, whatever is unbelievably handy, especially at conventions. It won’t hold more than a few pounds, but as an extra flat surface where I need it, it’s perfect.
- GM Screens (lower right corner). I have three screens I use for different purposes, but all are made by the most wonderful Hammerdog Games. They are billed as “The World’s Greatest Screen,” and I don’t disagree — I love these things. The landscape version I use as an actual screen for convention games because it’s low enough I don’t feel like it’s blocking me from the players — on the outer four panels I put helpful player information; on the inner four, GM info and notes specific to the current game. The portrait version I no longer use as an actual screen — instead, its eight pockets are filled with my “GURPS GM Screen That I Can Never Post Unredacted ‘Cause It’s All Copyrighted Material,” so I can run 99% of anything without ever once cracking a book (oh, how I love it). The smaller, “mini” screen I haven’t actually used yet, but it has six pockets that can hold twelve 4×6 index cards, so I know I can do some cool stuff with that.
- Tokens. In the Ziploc bag are various items for tracking the position of PCs, NPCs, monsters, etc. when using a hex map. Some glass beads from Bed, Bath & Beyond and Cthulhu Dice, and four sizes of meeples from Meeplesource on the left fill in as needed, but mostly I love the stuff from Alea Tools. I’ve written about their tokens before — right now, I have red and green glass tokens 1-20, blue and black tokens 1-10, and six different colors of magnetic tokens. All these items allow for keeping track of a huge variety of characters and conditions.
- More Tokens. The little white box has yet another series of character tokens (these are hand-numbered Lincoln Logs), and a stack of business cards.
- Loaner Dice. It’s always nice to have some dice for players who don’t have their own. This Farkel Party Game not only provides six sets of 6d6, but also color-coordinated rolling cups. Score!
- Sign Holders. To the left of the dice is a six-pack of small plastic sign holders, useful for making “name plates” for the players to keep in front of them at a convention table (like these). I usually make these beforehand, but if we’re making characters on the fly a simple index card and a Sharpie work just fine too.
- Dice, Rolling Box, and Fate Points. Like most gamers, I have a lot of dice. I keep my favorite sets in small boxes of their own – five metal sets of 3d6 for GURPS, two metal sets of full polyhedrals (and my original d20!) for D&D/Pathfinder, four sets of Fate dice (three plastic, one metal), and 10d10 for Vampire/White Wolf pool games. The black box I hold them all in is a very sturdy watch box that also makes a great place to roll. The metal Fate Point tokens are gorgeous, heavy, and make a great clinking noise together — they were originally from a Kickstarter, but can now get them at Campaign Coins.
- Dice Rolling Cup. This cup is one of the few “luxury gaming” items I have. It is heavy, durable, and really classes up the joint. I completely adore mine, but quality doesn’t come cheap! It was a completely indulgent splurge using an Amazon gift card after Christmas (it was also about 40% cheaper than what it’s listed for now).
- Noteboards. These fold-out dry erase whiteboards are awesome. They unfold to whatever size is convenient, and the storage bag makes a great marker eraser. One side is blank, perfect for writing up Aspects for Fate games, the other is delineated by a hex grid and two different sized square grids for games that use them. Absolutely one of the most useful little tools a GM can have.
- Pens & Pencils. The sunglass case just has my comfy writing stuff — a couple of pens, mechanical pencil, eraser, and replacement inks and leads for everything.
- Index Cards. The duct tape of gaming — useful for everything. In addition to regular lined/unlined index cards, I carry some that are dry erase.
- Markers & Pencils. Loaners for the players — a dozen cheap-o mechanical pencils, permanent Sharpies, and black dry erase.
Whew. So, that’s it — that’s the GMing case I’ve slowly put together over the years. I love it because it feels like a gaming bug out bag… I never have to worry where anything is, come game day I just grab it out of the closet and hit the road (or the living room).
I’m always looking for new ideas of things to add or tweak, though, so I’d love to hear about what’s in your own GM bag of tricks!