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Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four


A while ago I showed up at a session without my dice. Oh, the shame. What kind of GM forgets his dice? ...A GM who writes a roleplaying tips newsletter to boot!

In the past I've forgotten many important things such as session notes & maps, pencils, GM screen, key source books and figures. Last year I vowed never to forget to bring a thing for a game session again. And to date, I've scored at least 95%. And 100% is just around the corner. Here's how I'm doing it:

* I purchased a 13"h x 14"w x 22"l 40 litre tote. The lid snaps on which makes things more secure and the tote is plastic so all my stuff is protected from the elements. I chose this particular size because it's deep enough to carry my hard covers standing up, big enough to carry a lot of books, binders and boxes, and still small enough to get onto public transit or fit in my car trunk. I've tried larger sizes of totes but they get too awkward and heavy when fully loaded.

* I pack in about 8 source books, modules, loose sheets and a GM screen in a pair of plastic magazine holders. The holders are a recent addition and I'm extremely pleased with them. They keep all my books organized, protect the cover corners during travel and they let me unpack all of my books quickly by just lifting out the two holders at once.

They are also terrific to use during play, as they become portable book shelves and I'm no longer fishing through piles of books and papers tracking down the volume I need.

Today I'm going back to the stationery store and buying two more magazine holders. I am currently game mastering two different game systems which means a lot of book switching and packing. I'm now going to keep the game system books in their own designated holders so that I can quickly switch up for a game without fuss.

* Beside the magazine holders I put my GM binder, spiral notebook and reference duo-tang. The GM binder is an interesting tool and I'll save a detailed explanation of it for another time.

Briefly though, my binder contains a pile of interesting articles and reference materials I've gathered over the years such as random mundane treasure charts, a list of fantasy and monster names in case I get stuck, campaign world info, character questionnaires, etc. It also contains plastic card holders where I carry trading cards that I use as player hand-outs.

The notebook I carry around wherever I go and write in it my ideas, stories and session plans. I use a spiral notebook because the front cover easily folds around to the back for easier writing and I also get the books which have been 3 hole punched so I can rip out filled pages and put them in my binder. During sessions I start with a clean page, record the date and session# at the top and then just stream out notes during the whole session. I use the pages for recording battle statistics and treasure values/item properties found too. That way, after the session when I write my campaign journal, I have many clues and memory joggers to help--all in chronological game order.

The duo-tang is just a personal GM reference tool where I've put photocopies of critical charts and rules in plastic sheet holders for quick look-ups. Sort of a portable GM screen. I use a duo-tang because it's lighter and more flexible than a binder (i.e. I can fold it and put it in my back pocket while GMing) and I use the plastic sheets so that I can change charts and page order easily without having to take out all of the sheets from the back each time.

I've marked special areas in the binder, notebook and duo- tang with a neat little 3M product called Post-It Flags. These are colourful, narrow little Post-It Note strips that leave no residue when removed (which means I can use them in my precious rule books). I pen the subject on the flag (i.e. "names", "world map", "saving throw chart", etc.) and stick it on the page. These will reduce your in-session page flipping and research time by 50% or your money back! :)

* Next I put in the index card file box. I use index cards during sessions as handy references. On them I put character notes (i.e. their magic items, treasure items, skills, goals and personality descriptions). I also sometimes write NPCs, monsters, special encounters and campaign info on them. The cards are great because I can clip them to my screen or binder, hand them privately to players and file them away for future reference (using the Post-It Flags to create categories in the box: characters, campaign, NPCs).

* On top of the card file box I put my box of dice. I've actually split my dice up into a couple of boxes and keep one box solely for the tote--I'll never forget my dice again! In the same box I put my pens, pencils, eraser and over-size calculator. I carry extra pens and pencils for players who may need them. I use a white eraser because that kind doesn't leave marks when used. And I use a battery operated, over-sized calculator because we often play by candles and there's not enough light to power a solar calculator. The calculator is huge so that the buttons are easier to find and the display easier to read in the near- dark.

* Finally, I throw on top and around the sides smaller books (i.e. I carry around Latin and German dictionaries for reference), markers, figure mats and junk food.


Believe it or not, I've still got space in my tote. And I need your help filling it. I need a small container that might safely hold a dozen or so lead miniatures. I say safely because the containers I've used in the past end up chipping the paint off the figs or not holding them tightly enough so that they all end up squished to one side. Any ideas? : johnn@roleplayingtips.com

All this might seem a little overboard to you. I know my players laughed when I first showed up with a whole tote full of stuff (back then I used a 60 litre tote!). But, I can't tell you how satisfying it is having this system set- up and going. I don't forget things any more. I don't get rain on my books and my books don't get scratched and bruised like they used to in my knapsack. I don't run around in a panic just before a session packing stuff up, thinking I'm forgetting something. And, over time, I've built up great resources (i.e. the duo-tang and index cards) that really do help me considerably while GMing sessions.

This system won't work for everybody. I know a GM who shows up to sessions with absolutely nothing and wings it without notes, books or dice. But it might work for you. How do you currently organize your stuff? Let me know, I'm always looking for ways of improving: feedback@roleplayingtips.com

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four

* Coat of Arms 1.2a
* Promisance
* World of Phaos 0.9.2
Is Magic Armor Lighter Than Standard Armor of the Same Type?
Yes indeed
No, never!
In 1E yes, in 2E no
Only for encumbrance
Of course it is
Not in my world
* And-Mag.com

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