My GM's Kit for Gen Con 2011

This year at Gen Con I want to travel light. To be more precise, I want the gear in my GM’s kit to be light but at the same time packed with stuff that will enhance the fun of my games.

I have made the mistake in the past of packing everything I could think of for running games with, and all that results in is a sore back. The lightening of my GMing load has been occurring naturally on its own. Every year I seem to pack a little bit smarter for Gen Con, but this year I am putting forth a conscious effort to do so. Not a single item will make it into my GM’s kit this year unless I have decided that that item should be in there.

Obviously the first thing that I need to do is to cut out the fat. I do not need a GM’s screen even though I like using them for some games. For this reason all of my screens are staying home. Yet I do not want to take the bare minimum approach either, because that just results in those “Now is the perfect time to use one of my <insert geeky gadget here> but I left them at home!” moments. So I am going to use three criteria for whether or not I include an item in my GM’s kit:

  1. Is it light and easy to transport? I will not be bringing miniatures and a battlemat this year, because I can use flip mats and tokens instead. I will not bring my dice tray and cup at all, because both are too oddly shaped to pack efficiently. This is the easiest of the criteria to judge and evaluate.
  2. How likely am I to actually use this item? As great as the Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition book is I just do not use it that much anymore. For one I have developed my own personal form of Fudge that I can improvise off the top of my head with. That does not exist in the Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition book (but was obviously inspired by it). Second I can have a copy of the Fudge SRD in my Dropbox account and access it from both my laptop and smartphone if I need it (which means I can substitute the bulky book for the weightless PDF as put forth by criteria #1).
  3. Does the item make the game more fun when I use it? This is the tricky one. If an item greatly enhances the fun of my game when I use it to GM with it might be very tempting to pack it even if it conflicts my first two criteria. I need to make sure that I keep those temptations in check somehow, so I am making criteria #1 mandatory. I will just have to use my better judgment when it comes to weighing criteria #2 against criteria #3. My miniature hourglasses are a good example of this situation. Each is small and lightweight, I do not use them during every game that I GM, but when I do they have a great impact upon the game.

I will be running three different game systems while at Gen Con: Top Secret /S.I. (a classic), Fudge (a personal favorite), and MicroLite 20 (a first for me). Luckily I have PDFs of the rules for all of these games so I will not be bringing any physical books. Here are the rest of the items that I will be keeping in my GM’s kit this year:

  • 6 mechanical pencils: Always bring pencils for your players when running games at a convention.
  • 2 Bic multi-color pens: These pens have 4 switches so that you can write with either black, blue, red or green ink. Great for taking GM’s notes with, because you can color code the notes as needed.
  • 4 dry erase markers and a small eraser: Great for writing on flip mats with. Usually I prefer wet erase markers, but this is a substitution since I do not want to pack a spray bottle and rag with which to clean the ink off of the flip mat with. Dry erase markers are easier to clean up without needing more gear than a small eraser. I will be packing a black, blue, red and green marker
  • Telescoping pointer: Actually this is a telescoping back scratcher that I removed the scratcher head from. The idea came from a reader at Gnome Stew in response to this article that I wrote. Not only can I use it as a pointer, but it makes for a great improvised prop. It is so versatile and it is now one of my favorite GMing tools.
  • 12″ dowel rod: This one might end up being usurped by the telescoping pointer, but it is also great as an improvised prop and all-around tool.
  • 3 bandanas: Bandanas are great to use as improvised props. I have one that is solid black, another that is solid white, and another which has a black and red paisley pattern on it.
  • 2 decks of playing cards: Playing cards are excellent tools for a GM to have on hand. They can be used as props, randomizers, game aids and so much more.
  • 5 tubes of miniature 7 piece polyhedral dice: Each tube holds a d4, d6, d8, d10 with singles digits, d10 with tens digits, d12 and a d20.
  • 2 tubes of 10 miniature six sided dice: So many games use pools of d6 that I just found it worth carrying a bunch of them just in case. Plus a great bonus for any game is to give a person a d6 to add to their next roll. It even works with Fudge games.
  • 1 pack of 20 Fudge dice: Fudge is my favorite RPG system, so I need to have Fudge dice of course!
  • 200? mini-poker chips: Another versatile tool that can serve as a prop, game aid, counter, miniature and more. They work great as Fudge points.
  • 3 miniature hourglasses: One counts down a minute, another counts down two minutes, and the third counts down three minutes. Want to add tension to a player’s decision? Drop one of these timers on the table and tell them that they have until the sand runs out to decide.
  • 2 flip mats: These laminated maps fold up to be a little larger than an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper (but thicker). One side has 1″ squares and the other has 1″ hexagons. You can write on them with any kind of marker (dry, wet, even permanent) and they always wipe clean.
  • 1 case of 250 multicolored index cards: The case also has dividers, so I can easily categorize what a card is by its color (red for NPCs, blue for gear, etc.) and then sort it even further by game system (first divider for Fudge, second divider for MicroLite 20, etc.). Index cards are also one of the greatest GMing tools of all time, so I want plenty on hand.
  • Metal storage clipboard: I put all of the above in one metal storage clipboard. Not only does it hold all of my stuff, but I can hide dice rolls behind its lid, and I can keep a copy of the rules on the clipboard with a second smaller clip holding an index card.

Last but not least I will have a compartmental plastic storage box with all of my different tokens to use as miniatures. All of this stuff fits into a backpack but won’t weigh me down. Add a water bottle and some drink mix packets and I will be all set for some serious GMing!

What about you? What is in your GM’s kit? What do you take to convention games? Leave a comment below and share your ideas with everyone else.