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DM 'Tools'


Pathfinder RPG General Discussion


3 people marked this as a favorite.

So I've been browsing for the internet for about an hour now, looking through various message boards and other sites and not much has come up.

I keep getting links to software and iPad apps but that's really not what i'm looking for.

I'm looking at starting my own campaign, this will by my first time, and i was wondering what little tricks people used? For example the last DM i played with used M:tG cards to show initiative and one website recommended glass beads for abilities etc.

So i was just wondering what worked for you?

Liberty's Edge

Some kind of map to mark locations (unless you hate that). I use extra dice for minis, because I am poor and cannot buy enough minis to represent hordes of monsters. I also like some sort of small dry erase board or some other reusable surface, if you plan on running manny games it will save you money in the long run over using a lot of paper.
I keep monster HP and initiative recorded on mine, when combat is over, it is gone with one swipe. There are also some useful logs to keep track of PC info and NPCs on d20pfsrd.com

Silver Crusade Dedicated Voter 2013

Make a list of names. Then when players ask the name of the unimportant NPC you can give them one quickly.

I use index cards for a lot of stuff. I write the name of the character (not player) and the initiative and then put them in order. I also have cards for the enemies. For the enemy cards I use ones similar to the Game Mechanics initiative cards but I made new ones to fit Pathfinder.

I prefer plastic beads because once a glass bead shatters on your floor and leaves a bunch of tiny glass shards everywhere you will not want them anymore. I found walnut size beads at an aquarium supply store.

I don't use a DM screen because I prefer to roll in the open. If I need to fudge I just don't use a monster's full bonus or I have them be less effective in their attacks.

Pathfinder Database has some cool resources. If I need a map or NPC in a hurry I sometimes go there.

Try to avoid adventures with only one solution. If your players come up with a clever idea that might work (and they will) then let it work do not force them into the solution you created.

Silver Crusade Dedicated Voter 2013

One more website. Cardboard warriors gives you the option to print out miniatures on card stock and use them. They have a lot of free minis and links to sites with free card stock terrain.

If you get into card stock terrain World Works games and David Graffam models are excellent sources for decent prices. I think both are available on paizo.com.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

GM tool: 4-NPC sheet
fill out some 4-NPC sheets and put notes on the back defining each NPCs persona, traits, looks etc...

If it's a homebrew game, I go so far as to define 28 NPCs.
(children included, though rarely needed)

Good stuff here


I am not sure if this is something that you didn't want, but combat manager has been used in some of the games I play in. When I used it, it was mostly for initiative and hp, not letting your players know what their exact health total is at can do wonders for you atmosphere, but be sure to give them hints; "You feel below half strength".

Here is a good database of just general Role-playing and tabletop game tips, tricks, advice, etc. Most of this isn't so much about physical aids as it is about advice. Archive


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I run initiative on index cards.

First, I "square off" a section of the card by turning one sideways and using that edge to draw a line.

I put basic offensive info (often the Header and Offense directly from the statblock) starting from the upper left of the card in landscape (wide) orientation.

Then, I put the defensive info (usually defense from the statblock) on the smaller section in portrait (tall) orientation.

When I take initiative, I just put the cards in order. Having the defense info listed at a 90-degree angle lets me flip that section out of the pile without changing the order — and then have the attacker's offense and the defender's defense info visible.

The ability to make notes for each combatant on the card in a place that will be reviewed at exactly the right time is a godsend. Managing bleed, fast healing, and even spell durations is so much easier this way, because you don't need to track down where you recorded it.

Scarab Sages

Kita2201 wrote:

So I've been browsing for the internet for about an hour now, looking through various message boards and other sites and not much has come up.

I keep getting links to software and iPad apps but that's really not what i'm looking for.

I'm looking at starting my own campaign, this will by my first time, and i was wondering what little tricks people used? For example the last DM i played with used M:tG cards to show initiative and one website recommended glass beads for abilities etc.

So i was just wondering what worked for you?

If you don't mind spending some coin then Hero Lab is a worthy investment. It is more than a character creation tool now.

http://wolflair.com/index.php?context=hero_lab

Sovereign Court Publisher, Raging Swan Press

The Combat Pad you can buy here at Paizo is fantastic for running initiative. It's well worth getting hold of.

Preperation is also key (at least for me). As an earlier poster said, have lists of names ready for when the PCs speak with someone not detailed in the module. Have some handy stat blocks and encounter groups ready so you can throw off the cuff random encounters and such like at the PCs.

Get copies of your players' character sheets and study them. They give you a lot of insight into what the players are hoping (and expecting) to face. If you know what the PCs are capable of, knocking up quick encounters is so much easier.


I'll reiterate the suggestion for Kyle Olson's Combat Manager. It is an absolutely invaluable tool. I won't run another campaign without it. Obviously I have a laptop at the table so I also have two browser windows open, one to D20pfsrd and one to official prd. In addition I use the Game Mastery Flip Mat Basic and can't imagine how I ever GM'd without it. I use minis when I have the mini that is needed (small digression, I just bought the remaining stock of Pathfinder Battles Heroes & Monsters from my FLGS and they are amazing! The wolf is spectacular.) When I don't have minis, or when there are large multiples of the same type of baddies and I need to just keep track of numbers I use simple flat plastic tokens with numbers on them. I got these from my local teacher supply store. They came in a pack of 100 for about $5.00, and in various colors. Then I wrote the numbers on them with a sharpie(tm). They look almost exactly like these. That and a good set of dry-erase markers for the flip mat are all that I use, and we usually have swift and fun sessions.

Hope this helps! :)

Edit: OH YEAH!! I also use Hero Lab and can't imagine how I ever GM'd without it. It is a completely versatile tool, and while I usually don't use it "at the table." It can be used in that capacity as well.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I also recommend Donjon's RPG website (sorry for the lack of link, I'm at work). He has a great many nice tools and generators.

Star Voter 2015

A couple of ideas.
A note book with a "cast of characters" is always helpful.
A white board or easily erasable surface to keep track of initiative and hp.
An excel file for loot, potions, etc.
If you use minis you might want to look into getting some poker chips. they make great buff/debuff markers. Just slip one underneath your mini and it's a great way to keep track of who was hasted.

if you are looking at a computer program the latest iteration of Kyle's Combat manager is just amazing. It keep track of everything and has a wonderful interface. It is also helpful for quick rules reference.


Jerald Schrimsher wrote:

Some kind of map to mark locations (unless you hate that). I use extra dice for minis, because I am poor and cannot buy enough minis to represent hordes of monsters. I also like some sort of small dry erase board or some other reusable surface, if you plan on running manny games it will save you money in the long run over using a lot of paper.

I keep monster HP and initiative recorded on mine, when combat is over, it is gone with one swipe. There are also some useful logs to keep track of PC info and NPCs on d20pfsrd.com

My group uses dice for minis as well. We also have a habit of placing dice with their highest number up, and lowering the number as they take relative damage (using d6s, 6 = full HP, 5 = light wounds, 4 = wounded, 3 = badly wounded, 2 = critical, 1 = dead or negatives). D6 are also easy to buy at Walmart in large quantities on the cheap, and you can use different colors to represent different things.

"Ok, the red ones are the goblins, the green ones are the town guard, you guys pick a die to represent your characters. The black die in the middle is the hobgoblin barking orders to the rest of them."

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I purchased one of those nifty magnetic initiative trackers, but lost the pieces and went back to using 3x5 cards to note initiative.

The 3x5 cards are just all-around-awesome. I like to go around the table before a game and get important stats from each player and create my own GM-copy characters sheets so I can roll secret checks without disrupting any RP that players might be engaged in. Hell, sometimes I roll dice and scribble down gibberish whilst chuckling to myself just to keep the players on their toes.

I got ahold of a wet-erase battlemat [hex on one side, square on the other] and added a sheet of cheap plexiglass from the local Home Despot to protect handouts and paper maps. You know somebody is gonna spill something on your carefully rendered masterpiece. It will happen.

I built a dice tower out of a single sheet of foamcore and some crafty bits laying about the workshop; I'll post a photo if I can find it. Pretty easy build, even for the un-crafty.

We've used pennies for mook-NPCs for years; only during my expendable income [single guy living in the barracks] phase was I able to afford enough minis to get away from the Spare Change Army.

I've used cardstock minis, too. Some I've printed off, but I really enjoy drawing my own so as to customize things. Some of my players like to keep the ones from memorable BBEGs as trophies.

I keep a massive 3-ring binder for my "GM's Big Book of Pain," where I archive all my old notes and material of significance. Each new campaign gets its own smaller binder, and I go through those every once in a while to see what I can dredge up for the next game.

Hero Lab is my go-to electronic resource. Makes coming up with dozens of NPCs in a couple hours easy as heck. Plus, I use it as a backup character sheet when I play, just in case my hardcopy gets demolished or turns up missing.

I also printed up my own condition cards on cardstock for ease of reference and to give the players a look at what exactly is affecting them without having to flip through the books.

That's all I can throw at you right now without publishing my GM Manifesto. Hope it helps!


Indeed, Index Cards are excellent tools for GMs and players alike. I'm especially fond of them for summons and minions. The index cards shown here: generic white with lines are the ones I prefer.

You can put the statistics of NPCs, summons, minions, animal companions, or even the mechanical information for spells and magical items on them. Makes them quick and easy to deal with, and cuts down on your need to keep referencing the books. Also a great thing to write custom magic items on, and then give them to the players.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Ahh, there we go. Had to hunt through things to find it. I've also got a how-to-video of the entire process that I've been too lazy to upload. If you're interested, I can get off my lazy bum and put it on youtube.

Dice Tower


What is the purpose of a dice tower?


Thank you for all the suggestions so far, they've been really helpful :)

Stockvillain, I have considered making a dice tower of my own but decided that a prefer the charm of hand rolling. If I'm gonna be particular about anything, it's gotta be my dice!

I love the plexiglas glass idea! Just have to see how financially viable that is.

I have a few packs of index cards lying around that I was considering using but I think that's a definite.

1 suggestion was to use a 3-ring binder as a DM screen, that way you can have all the information you need right infront of you.

Still playing with the idea of miniatures, I was considering card cut outs but a potential player is really keen to use plastic ones.

Plastic counters are a wonderful idea! Thinking you could stack them onto the initiative cards to represent damage.

Next on my shopping list are whiteboards and dry wipe markers for calculating health and damage.

Combat mat and markers vs. tiles...?

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Evil Lincoln wrote:
What is the purpose of a dice tower?

Rolling dice without them going all over the table. I have some players who can't roll in conservative ways, and the tower helps to rein them in. Plus, it's another thingy for me to get all crafty and build.

Silver Crusade Dedicated Voter 2013

Stockvillain wrote:
Evil Lincoln wrote:
What is the purpose of a dice tower?
Rolling dice without them going all over the table. I have some players who can't roll in conservative ways, and the tower helps to rein them in. Plus, it's another thingy for me to get all crafty and build.

Some groups use them if they have players with shady dice practices. Official rolls are always in the tower and such.


karkon wrote:
Stockvillain wrote:
Evil Lincoln wrote:
What is the purpose of a dice tower?
Rolling dice without them going all over the table. I have some players who can't roll in conservative ways, and the tower helps to rein them in. Plus, it's another thingy for me to get all crafty and build.
Some groups use them if they have players with shady dice practices. Official rolls are always in the tower and such.

I'm starting to question the dice practices of a couple of players in two of my groups. Maybe a dice tower is the way to go... Are they terribly noisy? I'd think dice falling down the tower might be a bit more noisy than just rolling onto a table...


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I have an iPad app called DnD sheets. It lets me create all my NPCs relatively easily. I'm sure it's not as great as hero lab, but it supports pathfinder and auto-calculates most stats.

Silver Crusade Dedicated Voter 2013

MendedWall12 wrote:
karkon wrote:
Stockvillain wrote:
Evil Lincoln wrote:
What is the purpose of a dice tower?
Rolling dice without them going all over the table. I have some players who can't roll in conservative ways, and the tower helps to rein them in. Plus, it's another thingy for me to get all crafty and build.
Some groups use them if they have players with shady dice practices. Official rolls are always in the tower and such.
I'm starting to question the dice practices of a couple of players in two of my groups. Maybe a dice tower is the way to go... Are they terribly noisy? I'd think dice falling down the tower might be a bit more noisy than just rolling onto a table...

Depends on the material of the roller. Ones made of resin seem loud but wood or card stock ones seem fine. I don't use one but I have been in several games where they were required.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

@Mendedwall: My tower actually has something of a musical "ka-thunk-a-thunk-a-thunk" when dice are rolled in it. That's why I put the holes in the sides; to help with the sound. Much more pleasant than the "clatter-clatter-clatter-dangit-where'd-my-d20-go?"


I have used so many tools over the years... I used to use index cards for my monsters, listing their attacks, attributes, spells, etc. and I had cards for each PC and NPC with the same info and I would put them in initiative order and track damage on the cards. I use cards a lot. I use them for an easy reference for potential summoned creatures (by me or by my players). I use minis whenever I can, but I've used glass beads, plastic "pawns", dice, pennies.... Mostly I prefer now to use miniatures since I have a nice collection of them and enjoy making my own.

When I don't pre-draw my maps I use either a roll-our battle mat or I use a set of several 8x10 foam-core posterboard sheets with a 1" grid drawn on them and covered with plastic. I can use dry erase markers to draw my maps on them and the are typically easier to re-position by picking up one side, sliding the rest over and laying down fresh sheets to continue a map.

I do use dungeon screens, but that is mostly to keep my information private, not to roll in secret.

Lately I have moved into the digital age with a digital gaming table, a laptop running "Combat Manager" and even some apps on my smartphone. I still roll physical dice though, I don't like rolling dice on the computer.

I do use software like Dundjinni or MapTools to draw maps, along with Gimp and Inkscape. I also use little foam circles of different colors I place under the minis to indicate status so I know at a glance which characters or monsters are dazed, invisible, entangled... whatever. I bought a scrapbook hole puncher at Hobby Lobby and I get packs of thin foam of different colors from dollar stores dirt cheap.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Y'know, I just might start color-coding my status cards and adding those little markers for the minis, too. Should make life easier for everyone at the table.

PC: I'm attacking the goblin!
GM: Which one?
PC: *glances at the minis* Oh, dang . . . the dazed one!

On a side note, the sheet of plexiglass that I use is 36"x30"; plenty of room for anything I've ever done, except maybe a crazy huge encounter area that I did just to take advantage of the roll of grid paper I picked up in the Paizo store. It was an airship battle, and the wyverns needed plenty of room to run and strafe. Think that was about 60" long [300ft, not even as long as "Long" range spells].

Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

First off, let me chime in on the use of index cards. They're amazingly easy to use and re-use, and to do things like mark off multiple-round spells and effects (bleed, stun, daze, etc.).

I just turn a card sideways when someone delays or readies, and when/if they act just move the card. It's cake.

Furthermore, when I have creatures that show up multiple times, I can just reuse the same card. And I always have the cards ready for the players, so I just have to create cards for the opponents. Anything new shows up, I just add a card.

That's the single best thing that helps me run combat. In fact, it makes it so much easier that often I run monsters on multiple initiative counts, which adds to the realism and makes it harder for the players to pigpile their enemies, since they can't just assume everyone can safely unload on the monsters just because one has done something ... the others might be delaying, or readying, or just might not have gone yet.

Now, for non-combat stuff, let me second the use of a pre-generated list of names. Nothing makes for a realistic world like having the name of that random shopkeeper they just ran into, especially when you note it for later and reuse the same name.

Finally:

Evil Lincoln wrote:
What is the purpose of a dice tower?

It's a device used to distract and annoy the GM and players. It's less effective than a dice cup, but still pretty darn effective.

I know a guy who loves using a dice cup at the table. He thinks it's the coolest thing since sliced bread. Everyone else groans when he pulls it out.


While you can buy it here on Paizo, I made a dice bowl myself I call the Arena. It has wooden sides to keep the dice in and a soft felt bottom to reduce noise and allow for more rolling. It's not for cheating, but just for people who roll dice funky and it goes off the table (i.e. everyone I know >.>).


To chime in also on the index cards... VERY useful tool, I have seen them used and use them myself numerous times in the past. I actually found it easier to buy the multi-colored packs... They usually come in like 3 or 4 different colors and makes staying organized WAY easier...

I.E. make the orange ones monsters, green ones treasure, pink cards NPC's and so on and so forth... Keeps you from flipping through 50 all white cards trying to find one monster...

Also... I like employing the use of a DM Screen as well... Since our gaming table is maybe smaller then everyone elses, it helps keep the "glancing eye effect" from happening... No one backs down fromm an Ogre with 2 hp's left... You know what I mean?


Jason Stormblade wrote:
I also recommend Donjon's RPG website (sorry for the lack of link, I'm at work). He has a great many nice tools and generators.

Hells to the YEAH, Jason!

OP, Jason is steering you right.

http://donjon.bin.sh/

That website has a lot of random generators, instead of writing down names, this one will generate lots for you, names and a million other things. play with the menus -- it makes NPCs, names of various cultures, taverns, floor plans...

...Some of the best exercise you can get as a GM is grabbing random stuff, watching for patterns, and cobbling it into the story. The players will never know what to expect, and you can better give them what they want, too. The donjon site is just the start -- after you get a grip of that (because it's GREAT for inspiration and generating ideas to adapt, but it may not be %100 up to date with pathfinder) ... look for other random generators. DM's best friend. Honest.


Go to an art supply store and buy a "shadow box", which is an inexpensive wooden tray for $12.00. Put a piece of 99cent sticky felt in the bottom and you've got a quality dice tray.

Those "Game Mastery" map tile packs you can buy (Shrines, Dimensional Spaces, etc.) are all laminated card stock. The cover tiles in those sets are white and blank on the back; perfect for a miniature wet-erase board you can have at the table as a throw-down, pre-drawn room, or to keep notes, or to cut into 3.5 chunks and have reusable cards.

I'll print out celebrity faces and pics of monsters and such and folding a lip on one edge, hang it over the top of my GM screen to illustrate who they're talking to or fighting at the moment.


1) use minatures, they are better for visual purposes than cardboard, if your concerned about money, I prefer 15 and 10mm fantasy figures, you can also pick up dirt cheap warmaster 10mm armies on ebay.

2) have a tape measure, or fabric measuring line near the table, this is much faster in figuring ranges than counting squares and it will help to determine line of sight for spells and ranged attacks (measure from head of minature to target etc)

3) a large battlemat is a necessity, but I like dungeon tiles as well, being much faster to use than to draw everyting out and wipe it away. you can also get cheap thin and long wood (not a joke) at various widths at most hobbie stores, cut these into various lengths and keep it around for long hallways taverns, tables, support beams, etc, again much faster than drawing.

4) go to the 99 cent store and get some cheap plastic chinese jacks (these are little dime sized plastic rings in all different colors attached to other rings) break em apart, then use these for condition markers. when a condition comes up (shaken, sickened, flying, invisible, stealthing etc) throw the propper ring color around a minature's arm or head and this will make it very easy to see who is effected by what.

5) I like area cut outs for area spells, im not sure if anybody makes these for PF but you can find them for many other games in various sizes.


Evil Lincoln wrote:
What is the purpose of a dice tower?

Dice towers can be really cool. To roll a lot of one type of dice, or, to create a truly odd roll.

Example, was playing a board game set in the sengoku era. There were rebellions, battles, all sorts of things. Lot of different factions, so the tower would be loaded with all the types, and when you had to roll you would put in your pieces and your opponents, and down they would go. Some would get stuck, more would prob come out than you put in. Truly funny and exciting outcomes. As in when one tried to hold a castle town against a rebellion which was small in scale but still a problem. Into the tower went all the pieces and out come... even more support for the rebels from the people! Province kicked out the samurai and killed their men.

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/20551/shogun

Lot of cool stuff out there, and alternative types of rolling systems.


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If creating your own adventures use diversity as much as possible. I don't mean in monster type, but in CR and type of encounter. When every room is either empty or a monster it gets really boring for everyone. Throw in traps, the occasional puzzle, and monsters that are up to +/- 4 to the APL.

As for tricks/tips I use a lot of notecards; chase scene cards, initiative trackers, 1/NPC...there's a lot of mileage you can get out of these suckers.

Use chase scenes! Get yourself a small timing device or worse case scenario just count. Lay out some cards, explain the mechanic (with whatever homebrew changes you might use to streamline it) and then tell them the chase is on and start timing. I've used this 3 times at my gaming table and all 3 have been the highlights of those sessions.

Also I second the keeping a list of names thing. Abulafia is a good link I use all the time for name generators and such. I just found they have a critical hits gen there too; good times.

I don't use a lot of forms like PC/NPC sheets. I do use a whiteboard a lot. I also made a hex map for my homebrew game; Hexographer has a nice free mapper. For dungeon maps I get out either some graph paper or my home made dungeon tiles and 3d terrain (Hirst Arts - google it and drool.)

The last bit of advice: keep the players guessing. I send out notes to my players all the time. I had one guy playing a mute ranger, so I sent him a note that said only "Smile and nod knowingly." He did and then for added effect he slid the notecard under his character sheet very precisely. Every once in a while at a key scene he'd refer back to the card then tuck it back in place. My party didn't let a single point of damage touch the ranger all session if they could help it.


Chase scenes are good.

Also try to work on your poker face. Especially if you want to try your hand at running mysteries and complex plots.


3.5 Loyalist wrote:

Chase scenes are good.

Also try to work on your poker face. Especially if you want to try your hand at running mysteries and complex plots.

That's right my little monsters.


I think the different colored index cards was the best advice in this forum. I always keep the PC sheet when they campaign is over, and use them somewhere else. My players always get a kick when I bring one of their old guys back as a baddy or something.

Marathon Voter 2013, Star Voter 2014

Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber
Onemore wrote:
Also... I like employing the use of a DM Screen as well... Since our gaming table is maybe smaller then everyone elses, it helps keep the "glancing eye effect" from happening... No one backs down fromm an Ogre with 2 hp's left... You know what I mean?

I always use a screen. Doesn't always help with the wandering eyes, however. The son of our host has played in the campaign since the beginning and one of my favorite instances of "wandering eye" happened when he "accidentally" glanced behind the screen and then blurted out "what's a shoggoth?"

THAT didn't make the players happy at ALL :)

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