This entry is part 12 in the series GM Toolbox
GM Toolbox

What tools go into your GM toolbox?

Written by Michael Beck, with contributions and editing by Da’Vane.

GM’s Toolbox, looks at tools, tips, and techniques you can use to improve your games. Toolbox offers you a skeleton for running a campaign, rather than fleshed out tips. This series is presented in a discussion style, and we ask you to contribute with comments about your own tools, tips, and techniques at the end of this post.

There are plenty of things you can do beyond the core game as GM to improve everyone’s experience. There are points where roleplaying interacts with real life, sometimes with negative impacts on the game itself.

Some of the following are not just a GM-only job. However, your players often expect you to be responsible for these things, simply because you are the GM, and that’s reason enough.

In part I, we went over a few ways to improve your game experience outside the game using handouts and props, as well as a campaign newsletter.

In this part, we will cover some of the issues around organising the actual game itself, including finding players.

In part III, we will cover the ways in which you can improve your GM abilities.

The Gaming Room

Having a nice place to game is awesome. Sadly,  this is the one thing a lot of us can’t control very much. A nice gaming room should contributes to the atmosphere, be cosy and comfortable for the players, and offer enough space for the GM. Ideally, it should also be isolated, in the sense that nobody disturbs the group, or protects the rest of the world from loud screaming gamers who decided to make a dance of joy at three o’clock at night.

Michael: Here the tools I used to get close to the above remarks. When my girlfriend and me were deciding what kind of living room table we should get, I only had one criterion in mind: It should be large, or better huge. It’s almost ironic that here in Germany, you can only find really large tables in second hand stores.

During gaming sessions, I sit at one table head and use the floor as the largest shelf imaginable, also I’m using slipcases for my rule-books, because firstly, standing books consume less place and, secondly, it’s faster to find a book in slipcases then in a pile of books. In my old flat, we played in the basement (old house, old basement, for that dungeon feeling!) with a lot of posters on the walls and nicely isolated to the rest of the world (except for coldness). Having candles or smaller lamps is almost better everywhere than the ceiling lamp.

Da’ Vane: Most of my roleplaying sessions take place in public places, so finding somewhere that is convenient and quiet can be quite a challenge. Luckily, a gaming club that I attend has actually secured long-term use of a private function room in the upstairs of a pub, since it’s a regular event on a quiet day (Sundays) and everyone tends to spend a lot on refreshments and food in the bar downstairs, so it is convenient all round. It’s also nice since, while it takes a journey, you get the whole feel of having a day out and socialising that makes it more like a mini convention than a personal gaming group.

Scheduling Sessions

It might be a big disappointment when sessions don’t take place because of misunderstanding in scheduling sessions. If you are encountering this disappointment frequently, you may think of using some tool here.

Michael: I’m the big scheduler for all three of my groups, and the two in which I am a player.

For scheduling, I use We are doing pretty fine by making a doodle for the following two weeks after each session, and repeating this pattern every other week. This gives the guys one week to enter their availability in doodle, and the GMs have enough time to prepare.

After everybody does their entries, I juggle around the dates and schedule the sessions in such a way that there are as many sessions taking place as possible without overwhelming a certain GM (including me).

The Cthulhu group, does not fall into this pattern – we have Wednesday as fixed date. The reason for this exception is that the campaign is very long, and we need this fixed schedule to have at least hope to finish it.

Da’ Vane: Scheduling sessions is easy for our group, since we’ve settled on a fixed routine where we meet every Sunday. Although the sessions are fixed, the games that are run for each session are not, since there are a large number of players and GMs, and a wide range of tastes within the group. So, we run games in four-week cycles.

At the moment, we currently have one or two games each cycle, since not all players attend every cycle because of other commitments. This gives a freedom of choice, while allowing for a wide taste, and quite a few campaigns have been run over the years.

A few players have lamented the lack of a long term campaign, since it can be several cycles before a game is repeated. This means there can be a year or two between playing the games, but in general, being able to play in different games better suits the play styles of the group as a whole.

Finding Players

There is no game without players, and sadly, players have the tendency to leave at a certain time for various reasons. This is the point when you need new players.

Michael: I don’t really have a tool here. Today I told some guy that we are pretty crowded and I don’t see possibilities to start one more group with him. So, finding new guys is not that much of a problem for me.

This resulted from something I did for the students’ council of mathematics in my local university: In the introductory weeks for new students, we organized a roleplaying evening where the students could test what this roleplaying is.

After that evening everyone of them got a dice for free. Don’t underestimate the dice for free! If you want to interest somebody in roleplaying, play a short one-shot with them and after that gift a D20.

This weird and kind of special relic will keep them reminded of the fun of roleplaying, and they will come back seeking for more.

You may also want to check out Johnn’s e-book – Filling the Empty Chair.

Da’ Vane: Players hasn’t been an issue at the gaming club I attend, which has a steady number of players, including quite a few regulars who have been going there for several years.

It’s one of the larger groups in London, and convenient to reach, so most people who want somewhere to go for a game will generally find it, although there has been a significant decline in gaming overall within London and the UK, as things seem to be switching back to the less communal model that was popular during the last decade.

A lot of this stems from the decline of brick and mortar stores within London over the last few years. Roleplaying has always been more popular in the university towns however, but if you aren’t at university, it can be impossible to reach any of these places.

On a personal note, I’ve always struggled to find players for local games, because it’s not so much as case of filling the empty chair as finding the empty chair. I find I have a tendency to keep missing players, as gaming is always something that people seem to have done in the past but given up, with no idea that I’m actually looking, simply because everyone else is too busy doing other things in their lives.

The people I used to game with have grown up and moved away. It’s a predominant attitude for the area in which I live, which is a gaming dead zone. I’ve tried a few times to contact local gamers, but nothing ever comes from it.

About the Authors

Michael Beck considers himself a novice GM, but is encouraged in sharing his tips at (German language). Having played RPGs for roughly 10 years now, he accepts the challenge of living with his girl-friend, two cats, a non-finished PhD-thesis and two running roleplaying campaigns.

Da’ Vane, or Christina Freeman in the real world, is the owner of DVOID Systems, and the primary writer of their D-Jumpers series of products. With an academic background in science, especially socio-psychology, she is what many would regard as a “know-it-all.” However, the truth is that she doesn’t know everything about everything, but she knows a lot about a lot, especially about her passions which are games, stories, learning, and people. She is a consummate geek goddess, and yes, she is single if you feel like tracking her down and hitting on her some time….

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