When you’re a Gamemaster, space is at a premium in your bag and on the table. You must consider carefully what is important and what you can leave behind, and it is a nearly continuous challenge. Running events at conventions make it even more important to think about what you need. The basic items that every GM has (dice, rulebooks, pencils, paper, scenario notes) can be streamlined but beyond that, there is an entire world of supplemental gear you might consider.
About a year ago, I build my GM Every Day Carry (EDC). This small pack was something I could easily drop into my backpack or carry with very little effort.
As a player or a GM, I wanted something that would not take up a lot of room and I could grab if I was in a hurry. What I learned from stocking it, and then over time swapping out different parts, is what I’m going to share now. And, if you want to see what I put together, at the end of the article is my bag and what’s in it.
If you’re building your GM EDC, you need dice for yourself and maybe some for a player or two. I keep 3 complete sets of d20 dice (d20, d12, d10, d%, d8, d6, & d4), 2 sets of FATE dice, and a lot of d6s for games like Fiasco or Iron Kingdoms. This takes up part of a Crown Royal bag, so it isn’t a huge space eater. If you play games with specialized dice (like Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars or Dungeon Crawl Classics) you’ll need to expand this some. But keep in mind that you can keep a separate, smaller case that can be tossed in if you don’t play these games as often.
Please note, that if there is something you really need, like big soft foam dice because you are running for kids, or braille dice for the vision impaired, these are becoming more readily available online and in game stores. They may take up more room, but you need to get the dice you need!
A lot of games now use tokens. FATE, Cypher, Mouse Guard, and a lot of others use tracking chips at the table. I splurged and picked up a set of FATE coins and heart coins at Gen Con a couple of years back, not to mention a lot of sets of colored plastic chips. They take up about as much room as a partial set of d20 dice, but make tracking easier at the gaming table for you and your players.
Besides your notes, probably the most important writing surface you need are index cards. Character table tent with their name and description, secret notes to players, tracking initiative order, drawing out quick little maps, or making an inventory of loot in a room can all be done quickly with these. I keep a stack of index cards that are blank on one side and gridded on the other. This lets me build out a room if I need to for a dungeon or just make notes.
I keep a set of 7 pencils, a couple of pens (of different colors), a set of wet erase and dry erase markers (assorted colors again), and a Sharpie with thick and fine tips. In almost every game I’ve played in, I have used these, and other players have needed them. If you have a bag that has internal strapping, it’s easy to put these in the middle straps where they are out of the way but leave the larger pouches for bulkier items.
To make it clear, these do not go in your EDC. Your case will bang these up thoroughly. Instead, I began keeping a small miniatures case with a variety of miniatures if I don’t know what I’m going to be playing or the set that I’ll need. It’s about the size of the EDC, so it’s easy to toss in your bag with room to spare.
As a GM, I always have a physical copy of the game I’m running with me. This can get passed around the table, used by everyone, and it’s hard to lose. In some cases, I’ll copy important pages and attach these to character sheets to the book can be thumbed through only when necessary.
On the other side of this is what you do as a player. At a convention, you may know what games you’ll be playing, but sometimes you’ll just find a table and sit down. For this, I depend upon my tablet. I have a lot of RPG books as PDFs and these I upload to my tablet. I started doing this when I was a regular gamer at conventions playing D&D organized play and other big campaigns. Almost universally you were required to have the books with you that rules would come out of. My group would have a Sherpa bag with us just for this, and share it across the 3 or 4 of us. After a while we started photocopying the pages we needed, then switched to digital. It was a lot easier, and we could use our tablets for much more.
If you are going to be running a game, you need your notes. I have taken to keeping a lot of these on my tablet using OneNote, which lets me flip through tabs of different scenes, characters, or whatever else I need. But I do still like using paper, since that doesn’t need a battery. A folder, binder, or wire bound notebook are all best, but most important is that it is a place for your notes that you are comfortable with and can quickly reference and is just the right size for your game. You don’t need a 3-inch ring binder for a session, you need a small notebook or folder. Don’t overdo it.
This is the final item you might have in your bag. Maps are crucial to a lot of games, especially those that are tactical miniature based, like D&D, Iron Kingdoms, or Savage Worlds. All of these can be run without maps, but it makes it easier to visualize combat. If you’re getting ready to run an adventure and you know where your players are going, having these pre-drawn helps a ton. I have large 1-inch grid paper that I can fold or roll up to fit in my bag. But, if your players like being impulsive, I would suggest buying a wet erase battle mat that you can quickly draw on. These roll up nicely too, and even if you never use it, rolling it out is a RPG table tradition!
That is what goes into my GM EDC kit and bag. There is a lot of gear I could carry around (laser pointers, rulers, laptop, or Bluetooth speaker to name a few), but those are for those special occasions and stay at home usually.
If there is something I missed, let me know and I’ll see how to fit it in!