Friday, August 5, 2011

DM help - Right Tools

WOW! Two DM Help articles in one week!  Last article I talked about using your voice to give your NPCs distinctive speech patterns, accents and tone. This article will discuss some of the tools that are available to DMs.

The other day I had a buddy of mine over and we were cutting the large 12x6 foot table in the garage down to  6x8 and 4x6 tables. I noticed we needed a lot of tools to cut the table in half - saw, hammer, nails, screws, ruler, balance, zawzaw, etc. and as I looked around at my cornucopia of gaming paraphernalia it got me started thinking about what tools I might have accumulated over the years that I've used in gaming. What tools I collected that I still use and which tools have fallen by the wayside and made way for bigger, badder and more appropriate tools.

What's a Good Tool?
What makes a good tool for a DM? Well for starters a good tool needs to have some kind of relevance for a game and something that is easily accessible and serves a purpose. So let's go over some of the tools and if you think of others feel free to reply to this post. I know my list is not exhaustive by any means.



I will start this off by saying how I got started in gaming and what tools I required when I started. I started gaming as a second-generation gamer with my pop. We played games all the time when I was a kid. Here's a list of some of the items which we used to game. At that time I was not playing rpgs but I did a lot of miniature gaming and my mind was fertile and ready for the more esoteric experience that rpg gaming brings to the table.

Tools - The Early Years

  • 6-sided and custom dice
  • 12" Ruler
  • 6' Tape Measure
  • Historical Miniatures
  • Very basic terrain
  • Pens/Pencils
At a convention one year I was introduced to rpg by a guy I knew named John. Now John was about five years older than me (so he was a wizard as far as I was concerned) and as I sat down to play my first AD&D (1st edition) game I really got into the character. Ok, that's a flat out lie. I wanted to fight the bad guy. It wasn't until later that I really got into the character. In fact, I remember once that I had a rogue who climbed city walls only to be eaten by a giant squirrel. I had spent most of that morning making that character only to have him eaten alive the first few minutes of adventure. Such is the life.

As the years progressed and I matured into a gamer I really got into the hobby. I still played games with pop when he was around but I also got into playing rpgs. I learned about poly dice and how to use them and I we transitioned from using erasers and markers for our combat to cardboard heroes.

Tools - Late Elementary and Early Middle School
  • Full sets of Poly Dice
  • Boardgames such as Hero Quest
  • Miniatures from my Fantasy miniatures games
  • Chessex and other types of dungeon mats
  • Pens/Pencils
  • Gaming books, models
Then as I progressed into Middle School I started to become more of a hardcore gamer. I got into playing games with more storylines and less beat up the bad guy and really matured into the type of well-rounded gamer I believe I am today. These were great years for the hobby. There were several versions of roleplaying games out at this time including Hero, AD&D 2nd Ed, GURPS, Traveler and others. Many people also started using more miniatures and terrain with their games at this point. I also used my laptop and my computer to perform some of the calculations of keeping up with my players in a campaign.

Tools - High School
  • MANY Full sets of Poly Dice
  • Specific maps for specific quests
  • Miniatures from my Fantasy miniatures games
  • Chessex and other types of dungeon mats
  • Pens/Pencils
  • D&D books
  • Laptop
After high school I got into LARPing. It was a lot of fun and I do not regret it. One of the many reasons was that there were girls playing in larps (lots of them!) and it was a huge attraction for someone just coming out of high school. I had several girl friends (girls game too!) over this time that I met through this medium. I also played pen and paper rpgs, miniature games and many board games. 

Tools - Early Twenties
  • Holy COW alot of Full sets of Poly Dice
  • Specific maps for specific quests
  • Miniatures from my Fantasy miniatures games
  • Chessex and other types of dungeon mats
  • Pens/Pencils
  • Gaming Library
  • Laptop
  • Official miniatures specifically designed for rpgs
  • Costumes/Garb
  • DM Screen, notepad
After my early twenties I got away from LARPing and focused more on my studies of the opposite sex and my religion. I was going to school as well but I could have done a lot better had I focused less on the ladies. At any rate I eventually amassed such a massive library of gaming books that I was officially a nerd, geek, dork whatever and my pursuits turned inward more than outward. At this time I also met my wife and we had several children. I've been attending cons and gaming a great deal and have amassed quite a collection of books and tools for the hobby.

Tools - Late Twenties and Current
  • Holy COW alot of Full sets of Poly Dice and special dice like hit location.
  • Specific maps for specific quests, scrying eye games maps, paizo maps, etc.
  • Miniatures from my Fantasy miniatures games, sci fi, etc.
  • Chessex and other types of dungeon mats
  • Pens/Pencils/Vis a Vis markers
  • Ostensible Gaming Library
  • Laptop
  • Official miniatures specifically designed for rpgs (my dnd mini collection is HUGE)
  • Costumes/Garb
  • DM Screen, notepad
  • Dwarven Forge terrain, traps, fun stuff
  • 3d Terrain specific for gaming

A Good Tool
So what's a good tool? A good tool is anything that you can use at a gaming table that will enhance the experience but not detract from the game. Take my Dwarven Forge stuff for instance. If I set it up ahead of time (like I am supposed to be doing right now) then it will provide quality entertainment to the group, however, if I set it up as we are going along it might slow down the group. The same situation applies with the dnd minis. I try to have them ready to go at the table but occasionally we have to take a break and I have to go digging through my library to find the correct minis.

Sometimes it's better to have what you need and leave whatever you do not have on hand stay where it is and sometimes it's better to get exactly what you need when you need it. My experience has taught me that it is good to have a break about 1/2 way through a game where I can refresh my tools and everyone gets a break to relax for 10-15 mins. Give it a try. Keep your tools handy and in good repair.

Happy Gaming!

    No comments:

    Post a Comment