This entry is part 1 in the series GM Toolbox
GM Toolbox

What tools go into your GM toolbox?

This week we kick off a new series written by German RPG blogger, Michael Beck. 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.

The series covers breaks GMing into four sections:

  • World Building: Creating a campaign world, locations, groups, relations, history and legends
  • Prep-Tools: Preparing for campaigns, gaming sessions, encounters, and NPCs
  • Running the Game: Keeping game flow smooth improving the player experience
  • Beyond the Game: Creating handouts, organising the sessions, and becoming a better GM

There’s a lot of ground to cover, because you as GM have a lot of responsibility. But being a GM is one of the most rewarding aspects of gaming available. It requires learning a degree of expertise over games that is maintained through practice and discourse with other GMs.

Therefore, this series is presented in a discussion style, and we encourage you to contribute with comments about your own tools, tips, and techniques into the GM’s Toolbox.

The GM’s Toolbox

By Michael Beck

The Index of the GMing Book That I Would Instantly Buy

I have read some books about GMing and larger articles on the net, but I have never found a satisfying book that covers ALL aspects of GMing. By creating this toolbox, I also created something like a wish list for a GMing book’s content.

If I could find a GMing book with this stuff in it, plus some more theoretical stuff, this would be an instant buy for me. This book would probably be a large one, at around 300 pages.

Giving You the Toolbox

Michael Beck: Thanks for reading this rather large series. I hope this will give you some inspiration, motivation, and a bit less stress in GMing. Also, a big thank you to Christina, aka Da’Vane, and Johnn, who both spent hours correcting and editing this text.

In this series we are going meta. This is not meant to be a collection of fleshed out tips for usage (for example: an NPC generation-tip for generating NPCs). This collection is more an overview of what can be found in a GM’s tool-box.

You can take it as a shopping-list:

  • Do I have such a tool in my toolbox already?
  • Do I need it?
  • Could I replace it by a better one?

In that sense you could see it as me explaining what a screwdriver is and what it is needed for. I’m not giving you the actual screwdriver.

So what do I mean by a tool? Essentially a tool is the answer to a certain question. For example, your campaign planning tool is what you’re saying to me, when I ask: What are you doing to prepare a campaign? I want to illustrate each tool by an example of what my version of this tool looks like.

There may be even more tools I never thought of, so don’t consider this series as exhaustive.”

Da’ Vane: I was impressed with the layout of Michael’s work on the GM’s Toolbox, but quickly became concerned by how little substance there was in the actual article. It was a framework, a skeleton, and needed fleshing out somehow.

But then I realised the issue was how I was perceiving the term toolbox. That’s when I was really able to come to grips with the article, and make the most of it, understanding what it was that Michael and Johnn were trying to do here.

When people buy tools for the first time, they normally come in their own toolbox, although very little thought is actually given to the toolbox itself. It’s just a storage container for the tools. It is easy to pick up a beginner’s set of tools that has everything in it in this way, all in their own neat little places.

As time goes on, people buy more tools, but because they already have a set of tools, they don’t worry about a toolbox, so they just by the tools. These often just end up getting thrown in with the other tools, and that neat little system of organised tools soon becomes a chaotic mess.

When this gets too much, people suddenly realise they need a new toolbox. They need somewhere to keep the tools they already have. They may not necessarily need all the extra tools that come with bigger toolboxes, so finding a toolbox that is empty is often harder, because an empty toolbox is something that only a master really needs to buy.

In GMing, there are many books, and many articles, that provide you with a whole bunch of tools and a means of organizing them, as if you are a novice Games Master.

It’s your first time running a game, so here’s a set of basic tools to run the game. You can find tons of articles on specific tools, tips, and techniques that you can then use to improve your GMing skills and abilities.

But integrating them with the tools you already have can be tricky, and result in a lot of confusion. It’s rare to find anything that deals with higher level GMing. How to improve your skills once you’ve gone past being a novice, once you’ve been given your initial set of tools and used them for a while.

Most of the time we are left to discover these tricks ourselves, and share them by word of mouth.

This style of learning is no different from the early days of academic advancement – indicating that Games Mastery is becoming a recognised body of knowledge. It may seem limited to our hobby for now, but it isn’t.

Gaming is becoming more mainstream, and the role of games is returning as an important educational tool in our lives. It takes a moment to realise that when you need your first toolbox, you are no longer a novice. When you actually get to give someone their own toolbox, with or without some of your own tools included, you have become a true Master.

Being chosen to work on this series was that moment for me, when I became a true Games Master. Now, it is your turn to share your tools, tips, and techniques and become one too. Let’s fill up this toolbox, and see just how long it will be before we finish that GMing book that Michael Beck, and many others, would instantly buy!

Stay tuned next week for Part 1: Prep Tools I.

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