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With the rise of lots of PDF resources I'd guess that a good color printer and ample cardstock are now almost mandatory elements of a DM's toolkit.

What else do people find is very helpful either at the game table or as tools for game preparation? I know some DM's use computers to manage the game at the table - and others (and some players) use applications on iPads/iPhones etc. What are some others?

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12 Answers 12

up vote 4 down vote accepted

1) A decent Laser printer.
2) A roll of Con-Tac brand clear non-glare (Home Depot, $8)
3) An inexpensive paper-cutter (WalMart, $15)
4) Good scissors (Fiskars are my preferred; WalMart, $15)
5) Ream of cardstock, Letter size (WalMart, $6)
6) Ream of Legal Paper (WalMart, $6)
7) Ream of Letter paper (WalMart, $4)
8) Package of overhead transparencies for said laser printer.
9) A good word processor program (Pages or Papyrus)
10) Mapping and/or CAD programs.

Now for why...

The printer allows printing all kinds of neat handouts; laser printers tend to handle double siding stuff better than inkjets, and have FAR less smudge factor on the output.

The Con-Tac is for making your geomorphs and terrain bits, and your cardboard standups, much more survivable, and for laminating your maps from your various boxed or shink-wrapped sets. Better still, it can be written on in pencil, and a vinyl eraser will nicely lift it.

Cardstock: printing your various maps, paper figures, etc. Laminate it, both sides, and then cut out, and you get YEARS of repeat use.

Legal: if I'm printing a PDF of letter sized pages, I'll often print it, using Acrobat Booklet Printing, on Legal instead of Letter. This gives nicer margins, and places to annotate it. (It also allows a slightly larger printout. Not a whole lot, but just a touch.) Also, if the stock character sheet is too cluttered on letter, a switch to legal allows an extra 3"...

Letter: for normal printing.

Scissors and Paper Cutter. The slider type paper cutters make cutting out your room tiles so much easier. Still, you'll need scissors for some cuts, and a GOOD pair last a LONG time. Don't steal the SigO's sewing shears, tho... Paper and Fabric wear the blades differently, and make them less suitable for the other...

Transparencies: your best friend when making templates... Print to them, then laminate them. THEN cut them out. They now are thick enough to handle easily. Colored transparencies make great templates.

Word Processor: Pages or Papyrus, or if you know it well, Word. All three can produce very nice character sheets, cheat sheets, and screens.

If you have the money and hard drive space, a good mapping program (CC3, Autorealm, Universe, Hexographer) or Cad Program (CC3, Fractal Mapper, Sketchup, Cadintosh, Autocad) are wonderful tools for game aid creation, especially your town maps and castle maps. I use sketchup for making both walk-through views and deckplans for Traveller; deckplans by using the cutaway tools.

Anything more is gravy, but those are my key tech-tools.

In the Gravy list:

An eInk based ebook reader (Sony PRS, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook (but only the B&W ones), iRex Illiad. For PDF versions. Why waste paper for the lesser used supplements? I prefer to use this over the laptop for reading; I'm one of those who does get screen eyestrain from the LCD.

Laptop with Video Projector or HDTV adaptor. For showing stuff onscreen.

If using Minis and 3D terrain, a laser pointer. For checking LOS easily.

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Masterplan on a Laptop + a cheap picoprojector + a DnD Insider account and some dice = DnD anywhere.

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I have a cheap black-and-white laser printer and it has been the best payoff:cost purchase I've made related to gaming. Even with its rock-bottom hardware quality, it prints fast enough and cheaply per page, and most things don't suffer in B&W. It came with a "half" toner cartrige when I got it three years ago, and even with frequent use I only just bought a "full" toner replacement last year. (I expect the printer will bite the dust before I have to replace it again.)

I use it to print character and work sheets, status cards (slipped into a sleeve with a MtG land card for stiffness), PDF excerpts of frequently-referenced rules, and entire game rules in the case of shorter PDFs. I've also used it for printing out custom paper standups and tokens for hordes of D&D enemies, and for printing out portrait photos found on flickr to represent NPCs in Apocalypse World.

Being able to easily run off a fresh character sheet with a click has been great more than once, and the times that I've been running a game away from home and needed to print something out have been frequent enough to really make me appreciate my cheap-o printer. My only gripe is that the particular model I have isn't duplex so printing double-sided is a pain.

The only thing I've found doesn't work well when printed from a laser printer is cardstock terrain and models. I've found that printing onto cardstock means that the toner doesn't bond with the card properly, so the toner scratches and flakes off the model. While it works fine for printing hordes of cannon fodder, those are expendable and a scratch in the line art goes unnoticed. For long-lasting card models I suck up the cost of ink and use a good-quality photo printer. It's possible that the right combination of laser printer and card surface would make this work better, but I haven't had the opportunity to experiment.

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You don't print much, do you... I tend to run 1 cartridge a year on laser printers. But it's still good advice. I paid $125 for a samsung B&W laser printer last year... my replacement toner cart is $70... But I was going through $120/year in inkjet B&W ink, so it's a savings overall. Better still, that samsung is wireless. – aramis Feb 4 '11 at 5:43
For those with decent inkjets, consider a continuous ink system addon instead. A good CIS system will cost no more than a cheap B&W laser, and gets mass colour cardstock terrain printing down into the "cheap" range. – Tynam Sep 18 '11 at 13:12

Dropbox is the only piece of technology that I've come to absolutely depend on for gaming. I mostly use it as GM. Syncing my long term notes between home and work, so I can jot down ideas wherever is essential. And I can see those notes mid game on my phone. As a player I find it less useful, but having backup PDFs of books and character sheets has been handy on more than one occasion.

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Laptops/ipads with Dropbox, Excel/Google Spreadsheets, PDF readers that allow for annotations and heavy reliance on Google search.

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Google search includes the fun stuff, like the built in calculator – blueberryfields Feb 2 '11 at 6:00

As somebody that primarily plays online, I've found that the most invaluable thing to have is a shared character sheet repository. I personally prefer Mythweavers (it has sheets for Call of Cthulhu, 3.5e, New World of Darkness, and a bunch of others that I don't even play).

The other thing that I've kind of spoiled myself with is a copy of a PDF (preferably one that's searchable) for each book you need. Being able to hit Ctrl-F and type in a keyword related to the rule you're looking for is a lot nicer than having to ask each of your players, page through the index, find a few false positives, and generally having to frustrate yourself.

Finally (and this may vary on tastes), I can't go back to physical dice after using some applications. If you're playing online, this is most likely already set up; for a face to face game, however, I'd recommend Dicenomicon by Gandreas if you have an iOS device. It's ridiculously versatile, looks nice, has a preset database of dice rolls organized by games, customizable in almost every aspect, has other features that are probably useful to others but that I don't use, and is totally worth the five dollars it costs.

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Wow! Big question. Lots of possible answers.

Here is a list of links to various questions on this site that have answered bits and pieces of your question. Mark the ones you like. These have done an outstanding job of referencing various technologies as they apply to different parts of RPG gaming.

Best Map-Making Software

Organization Tools

Online Software

D&D Useful Software

Virtual Tabletops

Remote Players

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thanks I've seen many of those posts but the full list is great - however these are mostly focused on software (and mostly PC though some are cross platform). I'm very curious about what hardware (if any) people are using - another answer talks about using a cheap picoprojector for digital maps which is a cool idea. Are there printers people prefer for high quality/reasonable cost for printing out maps & other PDF resources? Do people use iPhones or iPads on the game table? – Shannon John Clark Feb 2 '11 at 16:38
Printers are a pretty wide open area. It depends on what you want, what you can afford, and what Operating System you are using. High Quality = High bucks, it is as simple as that because ink gets real expensive real fast. I use very cheap paper and a lower end print quality for everything that is temporary like character sheets or handouts. – Acedrummer_CLB Feb 2 '11 at 16:54
Finally projectors are great, I have one, but they are limited by what you can produce or find as far as maps are concerned. If you are a map artist, great, but if you aren't not (I am not) then you are dependent on finding or buying what you need. You can use drag drop based map builders but they are restricted to the tiles sets installed. If they don't have the right tile installed you can't show it. So while a projector sounds cool, it has a huge overhead in prep-time and setup. – Acedrummer_CLB Feb 2 '11 at 17:01
One last item on using digital devices at the table. I have found that players who use them are also likely spend time texting, skyping, emailing, talking and general browsing of the internet instead of gaming. They are a distraction to the person using it. We started out with them and quickly dumped them as they slowed the game down more than they helped track it. – Acedrummer_CLB Feb 2 '11 at 17:03
Sounds like you have a good handle on it. Just watch out as the prep time (which is always in short supply) goes up with each tech item you use to "enhance" the game. I use only a laptop (to access DDI, play music, and run MasterPlan) and my iPad at the table. No other tech is used. – Acedrummer_CLB Feb 2 '11 at 19:03

If you're running 4e, I recommend Masterplan.

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Masterplan is great (and actually already noted in an earlier answer) -… – Simon Withers Sep 17 '11 at 16:28

I use my laptop (and if running away from home, a free logmein account). Either way I can access all the things I need from my networked hard drive whether it be character sheets, PDF books, dice rolers or images and music. It is common for 3 or 4 of my players to bring laptops as well and to connect to the network we are using. Occaisionally I will use IM or another way of communicating between PC's to pass on secret information or only player specific information but I prefer to use it mostly as a GM tool and to keep communication verbal and old style as much as possible.

Because of my logmein account (other remote access software is available) I can pretty much run any game at a moments notice so long as I have internet access and my pC at home is turned on (helps to have a wife I can phone).

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I have a big roll of contractor's paper I tape down for game night. It keeps my table clean and we can write all over it - a developing relationship map, character notes, locations, sketches, doodles, whatever.

We use a wiki to keep track of developing campaign information and dropbox to store and transfer files around.

very rarely somebody will pull out a palmtop or laptop to either fact check something, pull up a resource, or illustrate something.

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It's probably unfair of me to say anything as I've yet to actually GM my first game... However, I'm in passive planning stages for my first game and this question has reminded me how incredible it would be to plan in BasKet. It's Linux software, though I think you'd be able to run it Windows with the new KDE... maybe. Either way, I can imagine it would be ace for a Linux-based GM. (Which I will hopefully soon become :)

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I find I tend to use the following:

  1. A wiki, generally it's ikiwiki for me.
  2. The programming language "dot" (from graphviz) for those relationships graphs.
  3. LaTeX for writing -- background, characters, and handouts.
  4. Gimp for maps.
  5. MP3 player or better yet laptop for music and sound effects.
  6. Pen (different colours) and paper.

Since I run systemless games, I tend not to even have dice -- although I have a nice set made of steel.

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