GM tools that weren't designed to be GM tools


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Out of curiousity: What stuff do you use when GM'ing that wasn't originally intended for the purpose? The NPC Codex is nice and all, but I find myself using my 1994 copy of the Writers Digest Character Naming Sourcebook way more often.

It's got loads of inaccuracies, but I don't care. Since I began GM'ing on a regular basis, it's been SO USEFUL. Someone will say "What's the cook's name?" And I'll flip it open and say "Anniki!" Or whatever.

So what's in your GM toolkit that was never meant to be there?

Liberty's Edge

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Instead of the Naming Sourcebook you have I use a Baby Name book for NPCs and sometimes for my characters when stuck on what to name them.

Really otherwise it is simply me doing things like finding floor layouts for real castles or building to build my buildings.


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I once sent my party into a valley of giant animals, where they found a network of small holes in the ground. When a dire badger popped its head out of the ground, the wizard launched a fireball after it, prompting all the animals in the clearing (and their fungus-based mind-controllers) to attack.

As I placed pieces on the battle map, I told my party that a dozen badgers were attacking, and placed them on the map as "Badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, badger, mushroom, mushroom..."

So... internet memes?


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Wine names work well.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

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I use plastic math counting tiles as place holders, mini bases, and terrain on the battle grid.

I certainly do look up sample maps, etc. for ideas for adventures. (For modern day adventures, the best GM tool is the news, especially tabloids, for ideas for adventure seeds.)

It probably is intended as a GM tool to an extent but it's more set up to be a writer's resource, but I love Seventh Sanctum's random generators.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I use NOAA's historical weather information to tell the PCs the local weather. I also use real-world moon phase tables.

I've opened up an old copy of Emily Post's Etiquette guide to figure out how to properly address bishops, baronets, dukes, etc.

I once picked up a book on crystal healing from a New Age shop as inspiration for magical properties of various minerals.

I have copies of old issues of Scientific American from the 1980s that had extensive articles on the history and engineering of real-world crossbows, composite bows, and catapults & trebuchets.

This was published as a GM aid, but rather than a baby name book, I pull out an old Judges Guild NPC naming guide from the early 1980s, even though the pages are falling out.

I regularly look to the Internet for photographs to use as visual aids. E.g. Neuschwanstein Castle for Castle Ravenloft; Galaxdi Village, Greece for Sandpoint, etc.

I will use real-world maps (e.g. Trail maps from parks) as inspiration/guides for game maps.

And I love looking to folklore for game plot ideas.


Google Drive is pretty good to keep notes, I can use it on my tablet, my phone and my laptop. So I can use my tablet to show pictures at the table, work on my notes rom my phone while I'm away.

Government archives websites have plenty of old maps you can use. (Best for 19th century but it can pass for earlier)


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National Geographic Archives.
Behind The Name generator.
NY Public Library Maps


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

boardtiles from DOOM the boardgame and Descent, warhammer and Avatars of War figurines, and The Magical OOC Hat (tm)

Dark Archive

Bottle caps, (usually beer[don't drink but gaming buddies do & they can be found on the street]) as badguy minis with different logos to.distinguisr which mini took damage from the full hp one, also good for individual initiative.

Flip the bottle caps upside down and you can place your mini in it, the side color can denote stuff like who has a torch for yellow caps, red for bloodied, orange on fire, green for greased, grey for turned to stone, blue for soaking wet, black stunned.


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Novels in Three Lines

It's essentially a police blotter from a French newspaper circa 1906, but they have a certain haiku-esque quality to them. A sampling:

Quote:

Because of his poster opposing the strikebreakers, the

students of Brest lycee hissed their teacher, M. Litalien,
an aide to the mayor.

Nurse Elise Bachmann, whose day off was yesterday, put
on a public display of insanity.

A complaint was sworn by the Persian physician Djai Khan
against a compatriot who had stolen from him a tiara.

A dozen hawkers who had been announcing news of a
nonexistent anarchist bombing at the Madeleine have
been arrested.

A certain madwoman arrested downtown falsely claimed
to be nurse Elise Bachmann. The latter is perfectly sane.

They make good rumors, story ideas, town gossip, etc.


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poker chips, glass beads, and/or regular gaming (or tarot) cards usually find their ways in my games.

gummy bears make good goblin miniatures replacement, and players get to eat what they kill...

A gutted out computer and other electronic devices make good combat-grid/map accessories for futuristic games.


Various setting reference books not specifically designed for RPG use (such as biographies of Star Wars characters, the History of Middle Earth series, The Discworld Companion, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, episode guides for pretty much any TV show, etc.

History books.

Lego minifigures, and Lego in general.

Soundtrack CDs.

Large scale local maps.

WordPress software.


Any foreign language name dictionary, especially if you are trying to capture a specific feel with the setting (or character, these things work well for players too).

If you want a Tolkien-esque game, I'd suggest the elven language dictionary at the back of Lord of the Rings. I've mined it for a few character and weapon names in the past.


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Matt Thomason wrote:
Lego minifigures, and Lego in general.

OMG, THIS, off course. How could I ever forget about that...


... and if we go back to the dawn of D&D (and RPGs in general), a pack of cheap "prehistoric animals" manufactured somewhere in Hong Kong...

do I ever wish I still had mine...


youtube - for sound effects

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

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Oh! Poster tack.

Holds flip mats and map cards to table, holds up minis prone to falling over, holds together squares to temporarily make larger base for large monster. Stick ball to table, put condition or buff card in to hold it up to make it easily readible. Generally pulls off anything without marking it (can stain some paper so you do have to watch that).

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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You know how when you open a plastic bottle of soda/water/whatever, there's a little plastic ring left over? Those can make good markers for who's carrying a light source, where an invisible creature is standing, etc. If you collect a variety of colors, you can start using them to keep track of conditions as well.


a 3'x 4' piece of plexiglass
black construction paper cut in squares and/or circles
a Google Chromecast


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

That little plastic tripod thing that looks like a three-legged-stool that they put in the middle of pizza boxes. They make perfect miniature stands to indicate a flying/levitating creature. I keep about half a dozen in my dice bag.

Back when I was in college, my roommate and I contemplated buying a case of them and then registering as vendors at a gaming convention. We'd sell them as "miniatures flying markers" for $1.50 each...

...at least for the first day. We also figured that as soon as pizzas started to be delivered to the con, we'd get some angry people who realized that we'd ripped them off!


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Haladir wrote:
...at least for the first day. We also figured that as soon as pizzas started to be delivered to the con, we'd get some angry people who realized that we'd ripped them off!

SORRY, OUR BOOTH IS CLOSED. FOR CUSTOMER CONCERNS, PLEASE CALL:

888-867-530

Dark Archive

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For my modern or post apocalyptic gaming I have several books on guns, ordinance, vehicles - not game guides but encyclopedias, reference books and even some military manuals. Tons of survivalist books that I read for gaming (a little strange, I'm not a survivalist or prepper in any real way IRL).

I also own some medical encyclopedias and reference books that I use when creating or modifying rules for existing/new games.

Almost all the books in the writer guide "Howdunit" series on missing persons, forensic science, weapons, private investigation, etc. For writers of the true crime genre but they work wonders for a GM running Chill or Call of Cthulhu rpgs.

And of course a library full of books on the occult, ancient myth and ancient cultures, the supernatural, demons, devils, vampirism, lycanthropy, ghosts, black magic and ancient rituals, cults, conspiracy books...the usual DM reference material that I assume most DMs own.

I have a ton of minis from the 99 cent store/dollar tree - full sets with rats and snakes, and plenty of giant insects (works for PA or Fantasy games). Packs of rubber cockroaches and flies that are pretty big when compared to 28mm characters (I can't wait to spring those on my players in Gamma World!). I do remember my Rust Monster from the bag in the link Laurefindel posted - I also remember wondering why they had that monster plus a few others in a random bag of plastic toys (I had already started playing AD&D).

I often use other figures (toys - McFarlanes Dragon line) to round out missing minis.

Laptop, movie soundtracks, sound effects are a given. I mentioned this in another thread - I will sometimes text a player secret notes at the session.

I purchased a small 9 x 12 dry erase board from the Target bargain bin - good for notes, low detail maps, etc.

Another good source of gaming aids is Michaels (or any large arts and crafts store), often around the holidays - starting at Halloween. They will have some Lemax collectables on display - the scale for gaming is way too big but I have found tombstones, bridges, trees, etc...also rolls of vinyl with cobblestone texture to be used as base mats for holiday dioramas.

Dark Archive

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GM Lilith wrote:
NY Public Library Maps

This right here is amazing. Always on the lookout for old city maps and tools (for Chill or CoC).

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

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Lamontius wrote:
a 3'x 4' piece of plexiglass

This.

Lamontius wrote:
black construction paper cut in squares and/or circles

My buddy uses those cheap round cardboard coasters for that fog of war. I just use upside down chronicles.

Scarab Sages

My players generally bring some sort of internet-access gadget with them, so I often google chat secret information to them.

Index cards are still one of my favorites. I have a stack for important, recurring NPCs, which have the NPC's name written in bold marker on the blank side, and my notes about the NPC (basic motivation, personality, perception/sense motive modifier, any special powers or important skill modifiers) on the lined side. When that NPC is speaking, I hold up the card so the side with just the name faces the players - they know immediately who is speaking, and I can refresh on the NPC's personality and abilities.


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Online photos. I've been told my flickr-fu is strong.

Also? Fashion magazines. Chock full of gorgeous shoots of ever-so-slightly-off to completely-fantastic locales and outfits. They get my creative mind working. New plots, new NPCs, all sorts of stuff.


Dot.


Wrong John Silver wrote:
Also? Fashion magazines. Chock full of gorgeous shoots of ever-so-slightly-off to completely-fantastic locales and outfits.

That reminds me I use to get inspiration from fashion magazines too (and also Sears, Target, Old Navy flyers etc) when drawing NPCs.

Pick-up your 90s Sears magazine. Open it to men's clothing or outdoors section. Pick a model at random and give him a sword and a shield and voila! Instant model!


The box that dice come in is great to represent flight or a character that is invisible.
Narrow post-it notes put under NPC minis (or on) to give info on those tags

Dark Archive

General goods catalogs are also great when trying to come up with new gear for sci-fi or futuristic post-apocalyptic games. Just find a utility item and morph its function or come up with a comparable device that would be needed in the future. This can also be used as a source of new magic utility items but the transition in from catalog to new items on equipment charts in a sci-fi game is much easier.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Wrong John Silver wrote:
Online photos. I've been told my flickr-fu is strong.

I'll see your Flickr and raise you a DeviantArt*. :D

I actually keep a few favorite folders* on there for Pathfinder-related goodness including commission artists, inspiring structures and landscapes, women in reasonable armor, monsters, and various PCs and NPCs.

* Possibly NSFW depending on if you are logged-in or not.

Another tool I'll use for GMing that wasn't specifically designed for RPGs is a mind-mapping application called TheBrain (Win/Mac/Linux/iOS). With it I'll diagram dungeons and towns, define NPC demographics and attitudes, and outline plots. It's a much different paradigm than keeping notes in Word or even a wiki, but I find it well-suited to RPGs.
Dragon's Demand Examples: Town NPC


Jiggy wrote:
You know how when you open a plastic bottle of soda/water/whatever, there's a little plastic ring left over? Those can make good markers for who's carrying a light source, where an invisible creature is standing, etc. If you collect a variety of colors, you can start using them to keep track of conditions as well.

Mind... blown. I can't believe I didn't think of that, and now that you told me, I think about all those little rings I've just thrown in the recycling bin over the years. D'oh!


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ngc7293 wrote:
The box that dice come in is great to represent flight or a character that is invisible.

*Infomercial Announcer Voice* But wait, there's more! Not only is that clear plastic box good for indicating a flying character, but the lid makes a great 'enlarge person' base. Just put your character on top of the lid, and your token now takes up 4 squares instead of 1. Other competitors may want to charge you hundreds of dollars for these amazing inventions, but our clear plastic boxes only cost $12.99! Call now, and we'll add a set of dice inside the box for FREE!


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I use legos as figures. It allows some appearance & weapon customization (since I have an enormous collection) so I can generally always create something the player will enjoy.


DeviantArt for character art tokens and maps (I use MapTools).
BehindTheName.com and surnames.BehindTheName.com for names.
YouTube and infinitelooper.com for background music when appropriate.
Seventh Sanctum and Donjon for random stuff.
Google Drive for storing notes and character sheets.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

I use Spotify for game soundtracks.


Dotting for follow up!

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I've been working on an Excel-based character sheet that automates most of the numerical elements of leveling up (HP, saves, BAB, etc).


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Jiggy wrote:
I've been working on an Excel-based character sheet that automates most of the numerical elements of leveling up (HP, saves, BAB, etc).

I had one I'd written for 3.5, and had sstarted writing one for Pathfinder, but got fed up with how tedious Excel macros are. I spent $30 for a copy of HeroLab instead.

Honestly, if I'd billed a client my professional hourly rate for the time I'd spent writing that Excel spreadsheet, it would have been in the $2500 range!


We used my collection of Star Wars dolls (sorry, Action Figures) when we played Star Wars D6. Using the figures to illustrate exactly how a player would perform a particularly dramatic action was always a hit.

I also have a plastic multi-compartment parts box that I use to separate and store my polyhedral dice so all the D4s, D6s, etc are each in their own compartment.

I am also thinking about having a whiteboard installed near the gaming table - something I've used loads of in my day job as a trainer - I think it would work great for players to plan out raids and missions.

Shadow Lodge

the interwebs


Kthulhu wrote:
the interwebs

lol - yeah, I hear they're quite useful for lots of different things :-)


The monster hunters handbook, to do creative things.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Back in the days of the Living Death campaign, Wikipedia was an essential author resource since you're setting is Victorian Earth. And it probably wouldn't hurt in running a certain AP book either. :)


williamoak wrote:
I use legos as figures. It allows some appearance & weapon customization (since I have an enormous collection) so I can generally always create something the player will enjoy.

I have always wanted to convert to combat system to Lego.


Parachute bag

Not exactly a GM tool, but they make great dice/token holders. If you need to have lots of dice handy and keep them sorted, it's quite useful. There are a couple of different brands out there as well, I know a couple of people with the Duluth Trading Company version and they're quite happy.

Sovereign Court

for years I used a bunch of tackle boxes and a soft shell multi-box case to carry the boxes as transport for all my minis to whatever game I was running. Now those are just the primary storage cases (the things got heavy!) and I pick out the specific minis I will be needing for the game.


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Wunderground! Need to know the weather for the Rise of the Runelords campaign? Check out Sandpoint's weather in Rova 4907. Or Riddleport in Arodus 4908 for Second Darkness. Or Katapash in Calistril 4709 for Legacy of Fire. Et cetera.


Probably the biggest one for me is Google Image Search. Can be a bit hard to find good images for eg elderly female NPCs (attractive young ladies seem strangely common...) but thank goodness for Helen Mirren! :)
I especially like how it sometimes generates the weird & unexpected, eg one time searching for a 'nature priest' I came up with an image of Copernicus and an entirely unexpected NPC.

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