What are your essential tools for good gaming?
I’m thinking of this in that “You are on a desert island and you only have essential tools” sort of way.
It would have to be writing materials of some kind. I think that would be even more important than things like randomizers. Randomizers you can make out of coconuts or fish bones or something, but stuff to keep records with is far harder to produce (although, take just a moment and imagine the Lascaux cave paintings as a chronicle of some group’s RPG campaign – it’s pretty awesome!)
I’m not really a big fan of bells and whistles. Since I run mostly a) online where physical tools are not all that useful, or b) at conventions where any tools I decide to bring I have to lug around all weekend, I really prefer to go minimal whenever possible. I am partial to good quality character sheets though – particularly when I can get the players to actually fill them out and update them… wait, that never happens*. I think mostly it is a holdout from the old days of complex character sheets when there was so much technical information about the character that as GM I needed a standardized place to look for the information.
After character sheets I love a good GM screen. Again I think its largely a throwback to the days when there were a million zillion charts to keep track of and it was nice to have them all in front of me. These days I like the GM screens that you can slide charts and tables into. I honestly find the layout of a lot of GM screens to be baffling – they frequetly have charts and tables that I never use featured prominently, and charts and tables that I DO use crunched down in a corner on the lower right side. They also waste up to 50% of their available space putting a big illustration on one side announcing the name of the game system – which totally makes for an awesome photograph of me as GM with my head poking above the illustration at conventions, but is USELESS for anything other than my ego.
While I am on the subject, let me just give some Kudos to Green Ronin, which actually supplies some extra double-sided, laminated charts for Mutants and Masterminds that are suitable for putting into those plastic table sign standie things. This was an act of sheer genius that I am surprised hasn’t been widely copied. Even if you don’t want to invest in plastic table sign standie things, most conventions now have them sitting around holding table signs, and you can easily procure a couple for your convention game. I invested in some, and one of the big reasons that I am running “League of Extraordinary Felines” at Big Bad Con this year in the Mutants and Masterminds 5th system is that I can plunk those charts on the players side of the GM screen and everyone at the table can have access to them without having to flip through books or squint at the screen. Damn that was a fine idea.
*My beloved wife is a notable exception to this. As a player, I confess that I am not.