August is RPGaDay month. Yep, a month solid of RPG-related posts, answering these questions:
Today’s question is this:
What are your essential tools for good gaming?
When I was younger, there was a time when I used to feel like I needed everything on hand for running a game. This was in the long-ago Forgotten Realms phase, when I would bring every damned supplement I owned along. I rarely looked in them, but you know… even if the characters were in the Jungles of Chult (way down south) you could never be sure they wouldn’t end up in Icewind Dale, or Thay, or even Waterdeep after walking through some teleport gate, or using some spell or magical effect. It probably says a lot to why I was buying those books: I felt the need for my Forgotten Realms to be canonical as much as possible. I don’t know why, beyond it being a sort of obsessive childhood tendency. Hell, I think that tendency was what drove me from the hobby: I didn’t want to spend money trying to keep up with the Realms, and it was easier to walk away than to get over the obsessive tendency… especially after having moved to a new city where I didn’t know any gamers anyway.
Well, today, I know the value of winging it, and of traveling light. I still bring along a couple of supplements I may not use, but which I might… but mostly I just bring what I need. What is that, you say? What do I need these days?
And I really I don’t need much. In my last LotFP campaign, I could usually grab it all and have it all in a courier bag and ready to go in a minute flat. What I usually brought along was:
- my dice bag (which contains three matches sets of Chessex dice, one (new!) set of Zocchi dice, and a bunch of others accumulated over the years… plus some fake plastic knucklebones, because where else am I could to keep them?)
- a pencil case with pencils, pens, erasers, etc.
- a baggie bag of replica historical Korean coins (used for tokens, counters, etc., the way poker chips sometimes are used)
- the main rulebook for whatever game I’m running
- a one-shot adventure (with pregen characters) or an alternate game, for when someone can’t make it at the last minute and it’s too late to cancel, but you don’t want to burn through the prepped adventure with half the party missing
- any game supplement I’m likely to need (if any)
- some scrap paper
- the printouts of whatever adventure notes and materials I’ve prepared, along with my ugly hand-drawn maps
- my laptop
- my phone
My phone is just so I can check the time easily and unobtrusively, as well as to give me the comfort of knowing nothing’s come up with our son back home. (If something had, my wife—who stays home with the baby when I run games—would have texted me or called, and knowing she can lets me relax and assume everything is okay.)
I use my laptop to generate certain random outcomes, especially for miscast spells and chaotic magical surges, mainly because it keeps things interesting, though I’d be happier to do up a mobile-friendly app that generates results off a list I store someplace online, so that players could trigger it themselves on their smart phones. That said, sometimes I have game stuff on the computer, and I also like that it doubles as a screen when I really need one—or, at least, it blocks the map from their view. I can also put background sound generators on if I want to set the mood of, say, an underground dungeon, a fantasy city, or the main deck of a spaceship.
That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than some people I know. I’ve seen people share photos of their minimalist essentials for game sessions, and it’s like one book, some scraps of paper, a single set of polyhedral dice, a pencil or two and an eraser, bundled up in a nice little purpose-made cloth things with interior pockets and a fastener on the outside. My mind boggled. I at least need a courier bag for what I bring along. Maybe it’s excessive, I don’t know. Then again, some people play with playmats, and miniatures, and all kinds of stuff that I don’t at all find essential. (Yet! We’ll see how the capacity to print minis will affect my feelings on the matter, I guess.)
I will say that when I play Fiasco, it’s just:
- a dice bag of six-sided dice,
- my copy of the playset
- the core book, and
- a pack of index cards.
Oh, and maybe that printable play mat you can get at the Bully Pulpit website, just to be convenient. I’d love to get that screen printed on a some kind of sturdy fabric… or wouldn’t a Fiasco tablecloth be a glorious thing? But that’d be for home games, maybe at a con, but not something for every game, right?
Gah, that’s the thing: I want to minimize, but I like the stuff. Hm.
Some things I find make for better play, though:
- Having my own, smaller, separate table I can run the game from, or a large area of the table if it’s a bigger one. Same thing as the laptop doubling as a screen: it’s just ab out being able to lay out materials. Oh, and a coffee table isn’t as good as a dining table. It’s too low.
- A chalkboard-topped table is a great thing to have. Players can scrawl notes, draw maps as they go along, and even diagram combat positions and strategies. The friend who hosted our last game had one that he’d made himself with adhesive chalk spray and an Ikea table. It was great. I’d have bought it from him when he moved house recently, except I have no room for it in our current apartment.
- A regular supply of water (or something to drink). I always make sure to bring a bottle of water along if I’m playing somewhere that doesn’t have a good water cooler available. Beer’s okay too, but I don’t have coffee unless I need to be pepped up a little.
- A snack of some sort. I am the kind of person who can play or run a game for hours without getting hungry, but I’m much better—and, eventually, less grumpy—when I eat.
Beyond that, there’s not much I need. Maybe, for a horror game, something I can use to set up mood lighting.
Obviously, this list would change if I were running other games. For Paranoia, I’d want a box of props; for Ghostbusters, a deck with the necessary cards in it; for a game using playsets (say, Beyond the Wall) I’d want extra playbooks printed up, and so on. But for the game I ran through last year, the above was pretty much what I brought most times.