The Kind GM Podcast Episode 8: A Session’s Material Components

New podcast episode, new article, new stuff all around!

I have a thing for go bags. I like figuring out what I would put in a bag for a specific occasion. Can’t say it’s a nice habit because I can end up with too many bags (empty or not), which I have, but I enjoy it a lot. That’s why I usually take a bag and stuff it with my D&D stuff when I have to go to a session. I end up with a really heavy bag but that’s a topic for another time. The topic today is that I don’t like remembering stuff. Well, it’s not exactly the topic but that’s the reason I’m here.

Checklists. Who’d think they are so helpful?

I tend to get a piece of scrap paper and write down what I need but that’s not fancy nor practical. It’s not fancy because it’s just a scrap of paper and it’s not practical because I have to write down the items I need every time so I always forget something. So I made a D&D session checklist and thought I’d share it with you (and you can find its PDF version later on). Now, let’s get over this overly awkward intro and check out the checklist.

In order for me to make a nice checklist, I grouped some things together to see which and how should be mentioned. So first I will be mentioning the items by group. Oh, and I’ll be trying to make one checklist for the GM and one for the player.

By the way, if you prefer listening to this I have your solution right here! The Kind GM podcast episode 8 completely incidentally covers the same topic! Now that’s a convenient coincidence. You can check it out on SoundCloud. Enjoy

Anyway, as I was saying. Groups!

Pencils

Pretty simple, but people tend to forget about them so as a GM I bring quite a few with me. I prefer mechanical pencils to avoid broken tips. Oh, and never use a pen on a character sheet.

Dice

Dice! They are colourful and pretty and they roll more 2s than 20s. But we still love them. Now, I may say dice here but that’s pretty much your resolution mechanic. A ton of RPGs use dice but there are others that use playing cards, tarot cards, or something else.

Character sheet

That’s very important for the player during their session. Duh. However, it could be useful for the GM as well. Having some technical information about the character, in case they want to tweak encounters (for the character’s or the monsters’ favour) or information about their backstory in order to enrich the campaign with elements the players came up with. 

Should the GM have a copy of the character sheet? I guess the answer depends on who you’ll ask. There are GMs who are out for character blood so some players aren’t fans of it. However, for the reasons I mentioned above, it could be useful to have as a GM but this is not a session item.

Notes

Notes are essential for GMs and players alike. Players keep notes in order to remember key parts of the story, NPCs they met, clues they may have uncovered, and anything they may think of importance. Plus, notes may help immerse the players a bit more. Moreover, taking notes shows the GM that you care about the game. It always makes me happy when I see my players take notes and then go back to them in later sessions.

As for GMs, notes can be unending but, just to be safe, you can have notes about the overarching story, whether you are running a homebrew or a published adventure. And, of course, you can, and probably should, have some prepared notes about the current session. 

A thing I like doing is checking out my players’ notes. Sometimes I get too into GMing and forget to take notes about stuff happening during the session. So going back to my players’ notes helps me prepare better for the next session. Moreover, you can see the session from another point of view, which can work as both inspiration and feedback.

Reference Material

This could go under notes as well, but I tried to kinda separate the story notes from everything else. What could players go for? Well, first of all, you need a reference regarding your character’s mechanics. It’s better to have them condensed in a page or two than scouring the Player’s Handbook, and possibly other books as well, in order to find how a feature works. It cuts down waiting time which could hurt immersion. 

Another item is spell references. You don’t necessarily get spell cards, though I recommend them because they are very handy. I use them for me and for new players. I like them because I don’t like flipping through the spell section and the new players like them because they have their options right in front of them and that makes them less overwhelmed. Another alternative, in order to avoid costs, is to write your spells in a document and print them. It’s a bit of a cruder option but I’ve tried it and it works.

But what about the GM? Let’s start with books. I go for the trinity of Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I could go without the DMG if I make some other reference notes but I still like carrying it around. Also, if I’m using a published adventure I bring that book with me as well. Sometimes, my notes don’t cover everything or we move more than I had anticipated so I haven’t prepared.

Personally, I like my GM Screen. I don’t really care about hiding my rolls but I just like it. Also, it has some nice references on my side, like conditions, which means less stuff for me to prepare. 

Speaking of preparing stuff, some nice things to have are random tables and ready material. These aren’t essential but they can save you from situations when you have to come up with stuff on the fly. And let’s face it. As GMs, we always face such situations.

Props

When I say props, I mean minis, maps, art, et cetera – all sorts of extra things that add a bit of atmosphere to the game. Minis may add more of a tactical flavour to the game than just atmosphere, though. Players can carry their own minis for their character, but the GM can also have not only PC/NPC minis, but also of course all the monsters as well.

Same goes for maps, although you could say at a much greater degree than minis; even if you use theater of the mind, a map is amazingly useful to help the players visualize the area. I’d go so far as to say that having a map is a must for some encounters, since it can save you a lot of time and effort spent trawling through written descriptions and trying to figure out where everyone is standing or going. Obviously, maps are usually the GM’s prerogative – you mostly want to keep them hidden until it’s time for the players to explore.

Snacks

I can say there is not much to say about snacks but also a lot. Having a snack is important, especially when it’s a long session. The details, however, depend on the group. If you are responsible for the session’s snacks, take into consideration everyone in the group. If you are just bringing your own, make sure to bring extra so you can share with your friends.

And that’s what I tend to bring to my sessions. You can find the checklist here (and here for a printer friendly version). It’s not a perfect list and it doesn’t accommodate everyone. And that’s why I ask you. Which material components do you bring to your sessions?


And until next time, have fun!

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