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My Must Have Items as a ‘D&D’ Dungeon Master

I’ve been playing various tabletop roleplaying games for over two decades now, but it wasn’t until the past year that I took the seat on the other side of the screen and became a DM. It started when I got the chance to run some more family-oriented games as a way of pulling our two boys into the hobby. Now, I run a group for elementary-aged kids at our favorite local gaming store once a week. It was when I started running my regular group that I truly felt I leveled as a DM and my organization really had to be thorough. Some of my players are younger, and there are a lot of rules and aspects to this game, so I had to be on it so that I could support my young players who are learning to play. These are some of the items that let me run the game smoothly.

My DM Notebook From WTF Notebooks

My notebook in the middle of a campaign section. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

While not all of the offerings from WTF Notebooks are kid-friendly, some of the sillier ones are, like my notebook that says “Evil plans and unicorn drawings.” What I really like about these notebooks is that you get to pick the binding style and the interior style. I use the wire binding, so it easily lies flat and compact behind my GM screen, with the grid paper pattern, so I can draw out any maps or diagrams I need. While there are numerous sources out there for pre-made DM tracking guides, I like the flexibility to design my notes the way I need them. Fun note, I actually record my character sheets for when I play in a bullet journal for similar reasons. For me, setting up scenarios in advance including XP, treasure, and listing all the relevant characters so I can note initiative, hit points, and time-based conditions really helps me out.

My Stat Trackers

Stat Trackers filled out. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

I had never heard of Stat Trackers from Top Dog Games until right before I started my big campaign, and I realized very quickly that they would be incredibly useful for me. Stat Trackers come in Player Character and NPC styles (as well as pre-made versions for the common monsters). They hook over your GM screen so that the players can see the Initiative order from their side, but the DM side includes the important stats the DM needs. For my players, I have things like their Armor Class, Hit Points, Spell DC and Attack, Attributes, Skills, Saving Throws, Proficiencies, Initiative Bonus, etc. If my players struggle to find one number in a sea of stats, I can give it to them. I know very quickly what roll I need to make if an NPC needs to make a saving throw. I no longer flip through pages of monsters and I love it. NPC Cards include Armor Class, Hit Points, Speed, Attacks/Abilities, Attributes, Saves, etc. Everything I need is right in front of me, and it just makes the game so much nicer. I’m not the only one who loves these cards, as their endorsements include Joe Manganiello and Liam O’Brien.    

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My Spell, Item, and Ability Cards

Various cards and the container I hold them in. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

When I decided to run a game for kids, I had to figure out how to help them keep track of all of that info including their abilities, which spells they have, which spells they have already cast, what consumable items they used up, etc. It seemed like a lot, and I became aware of spell and item cards. I loved the idea and took it a step further by making cards for their abilities and cards for spell slots after being inspired by watching my kids sorting Pokémon cards. If they could memorize the stats and abilities of Pokémon cards, I figured they could do it for D&D characters if organized the same way. I have a color-coded system that includes spell cards, consumable items, non-consumable items, and abilities. My kids know a light pink card is a consumable item and they hand it to me when they use it. A neon pink card is a spell slot or ability that needs a rest to recover. They hand it to me when they use it, the ability card says what the ability does so no one has to look it up, and I return it after they take an appropriate rest. The spell cards are color-coded by level and, if I need to check what a spell does, they hand me the card. This has allowed me to have younger kids play spell casters while easily being able to keep track of what they have and have not cast. I have seen adult players look at the setup and say, “I think I need that for me.” It also puts all of the abilities in a place that’s easy to read. I hate that character sheets have so little room that it’s easy to forget abilities if you can’t read them, but using the 9 card sleeves in a folder like Pokémon cards are stored in is just so much easier visually. Did it take work to set this up? Yes. Does it take some time when my players level? Yes. Does it keep my game flowing better at the table? Yes, and that is why it’s worth it for me. There are several places online where you can find preprinted or blank cards. Mine came from The Arcane Library.

My 1″ Hole Punch

A variety of NPCs. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

This might seem like a stranger item, but here’s the thing as a newer DM; when I got started, I didn’t get a visit from a fairy godmother and wasn’t gifted an extensive DM collection of minis and terrain to make my table look extra cool. I am admittedly working on building up that collection, but that takes a lot of time even if we do 3D print what we need or want, and sometimes finding the right minis in the right time frame is just not happening. I use the leftover cardstock (from the cards discussed above) and my 1″ hole punch to quickly create any NPCs that I need. I can use colors and numbers to track NPCs of different types and making replacements is super easy. I keep them in a small container next to my writing instruments with my DM stuff. Is it the fanciest solution? No. Does it handle the exact job I need to without costing a fortune? Yes. I can upgrade to properly painted minis when I have them, and if not, I know I have it covered. These punches can be found at any craft store.

So if you’re a new DM, or a DM just looking at how to organize things a bit better, I hope these items can help your game as much as they helped mine. 

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This post was last modified on February 26, 2023 6:37 pm

Elizabeth MacAndrew

Elizabeth MacAndrew didn't choose the geek life, it kicked down her front door and told her she was a Jedi. She lives in Arizona with her husband, two boys, two spoiled rescue dogs, and a ridiculous amount of Pop! Vinyls. Her favorite geeky hobbies include watching sci-fi/fantasy shows, tabletop gaming, and convincing herself that some day her reading pile won't be an entire bookcase.

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