GM accessories – a wish list

It is GM’s Day today at DrivethruRPG: as a GM I’m often looking for cool stuff to give to players, and to make my life as a GM easier (I’m lazy that way!). I recently picked up a number of old boxed adventures for AD&D on eBay recently, like the Dragon Mountain set. I’d forgotten how much material was included in them. I thought it might be an idea to put together my wishlist of GM accessories that I’d like to see in RPG adventures/supplements. If an adventure is being crowd-funded like Kickstarter for example then these could easily be stretch goals i.e. the GM accessories are added when a certain level of funding is reached. I’m not even sure why I’m doing this, but here goes. It’s what I would like to see in the ways of GM accessories for adventures – who knows? Perhaps some module/adventure designer may take this advice to heart when they produce their product.

Stuff for the players

GM accessories like handouts are always a winner. They provide a quick and immersive way of engaging the players, as well as providing visual clues – be they maps or letters. They also need to be readable if there’s any text, unless that’s the actual point. If the handout needs to be printed then it should work on a standard black-and-white printer without looking muddy. Colour is all very well, but can be expensive in ink/toner to print! Call of Cthulhu games may benefit from handouts, like authentic period tickets or menus (like in Horror on the Orient Express). I created the dossier for eBranch by using the Courier font (resembling typing), then carefully stained the paper with a mixture of lemon juice and teabags to give an authentic looking appearance of an old document. Although they can be tricky to produce, props and items requiring assembly provide a great deal of enjoyment –  some games have items that require assembly as part of the gameplay (like the Rod of Seven Parts artifact, or the amulet in Dragon Mountain).

Dragon Mountain has some stand-up card counters of the many monsters. These sort of things are very handy in games like D&D 4e, where miniatures are often needed and maybe too large to transport to a game. Having miniatures isn’t always easy on the table, so the counters can help. They don’t even need to be heavy duty card, just something simple. Likewise, model buildings that can be assembled (like Cities of Mystery), although they are of limited use unless you are also a wargamer.

If there are new rules for players to use, I’d like to see them in the same format as the rulebook, ideally in the same layout and typeface. I’d like them to be separate from the main adventure too (e.g. in loose-leaf form or in their own book), so players can refer to them without stalling the game.

If there are maps, they should be scalable to allow GMs to position miniatures, or there are floorplans that can be used  (or used with a Battlemat). A few years back I ran the AD&D Ravenloft adventure Feast of Goblyns using some generic room templates that I’d created. They worked really well – but they were fairly crudely drawn, but at least were laid out in grids (or hexes). Again, these are probably necessary for D&D 4e.

GM Accessories

Maps are great GM accessories, but I’d prefer maps to be in their own booklet to make it easier to refer to, preferably numbered sections in the main adventure. The Temple of Elemental Evil did this well – a separate A5 pamphlet within the adventure made it easy to refer to, rather than flicking back and forth through the text. I hate having to refer back to particular pages in an adventure. Player maps are great to include so long as they aren’t printed on the reverse of a GMs map! If the map is A3 or larger it should withstand continued unfolding!

As regards fluff and descriptive text – I’m never a big fan of background fluff in adventures, especially when it relates to stuff the PCs have no way of knowing or are just there to fill out the page count. The GM shouldn’t really have read more than a quarter page of text to the players for each room. It should also be easy to read! I like being able to find the rules I want in the correct area, indexed and with clear section/chapter headings – not scattered amidst the background fluff (the wh40k RPGs are especially guilty of this). An index is a must (perhaps also listing the page numbers where items/monsters can be found in the adventure or main rulebook). Content pages with subheadings are also good. The text should also be readable without being tiny and at the very least it should have been proofread (not just spell-checked). If its a boxed set, the box should be sturdy enough to be carried in a rucksack! Layout isn’t a black art, but more than two or three columns and it becomes a nightmare – please keep it simple.

Artwork. I like being able to show my players the artwork. To use the old cliché, a picture is worth a  thousand words. When the Dark Sun setting for AD&D first came out they used flipbooks which also various images from the adventure,and I’d like to see something similar as it really evoked the setting. I know artwork is re-used a lot but I’d like to see some new art in an adventure. The Babylon 5 RPG (and supplements) is very text-heavy with stills from the show, but it would have been nice to see some actual artwork in the product. For my D6 Star Wars game, I put the artwork from the adventures into a collage – this gave players a sort of visual history too, when I affixed it to the GM screen (the part without any charts obviously). Its not difficult to get good quality artwork, and is less expensive than people think. Cthulhu Invictus has terrible artwork and production values – so much so that I actually regret getting the game.

Playtest the adventure. Seriously, I sometime wonder if the designers have playtested some of their adventures. Some adventures seem to have a requirement for GMs leading the PCs around by the nose from plot point to plot point – others seem flawed from the outset, or fail to deal with such simple aspects as player choice. I’d like a page from the designer(s) on how to run/stage the adventure, or how the game went during playtesting, as well as possible adventure hooks.
A mind-map or timeline of plot points of the adventure – not as complicated as it sounds really.

Rules errata – I’d like adventures to include rule errata from the main rulebook as standard. I really don’t know why they don’t.

Re-usability – I love being able to reuse adventures or their materials, especially items such as floorplans or background info. The book or box should be fairly robust to handle repeated handling – the wh40k Chapter Approved book fell apart within a year of me getting  it ( and it was brand new!).

Give us gamers free stuff! Whether its a unique download of a character class or a font (like my Mandragora Glyphs Fontt) or even a discount off another products, give us a reason to purchase the full version of  a module. I suspect that a huge proportion of the RPG community use illegal PDFs, so give us a reason to go for the full products (rather than locking them down with DRM).

More by the same author. There’s usually some blurb about how the designer came up with the ideas for the adventure. Why not list some of the other products if it is a series (together with the product code and ISBN)?

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at and regularly play RPGs.