A couple of months ago, I turned up to run a game of Heart: the City Beneath, and realised I’d forgotten to bring dice. Not a problem – our host was able to provide what we needed – but a little annoying. I’d planned to bring fancy red and black and orange dice!
A few weeks later, in the midst of pretty severe burnout, I was packing to go run the next Heart game. This time I was determined not to forget something. So much so that I even when online to look for “How to pack for an RPG” guides, to make sure I had what I needed. I couldn’t find anything good; at least not on the first page of Google.
Long story short, I forgot the character sheets. That was a problem.
Anyway, here’s a list of everything you (might or might not) need when you attend an RPG session. It’s designed for you to start at the top and work down, with off-ramps when you hit something that doesn’t apply to you. I made this for me, but maybe you’ll find it useful too? I’ve no expectation this will reach the first page of Google, but at least I’ll know where it is.
What You Need to Play in a Game
- Dice, as appropriate for your game. For yourself, and ideally for other folks too. (Optionally a dice tray, I suppose. I’ve never used one.)
- Pencil case filled with pencils, pencil sharpeners, rubbers (erasers if you’re American, do your fly up) and anything else you need to annotate your character sheet.
- Rulebooks. Most of the time I’ll only bother with these if I’m the one running the game. But if the whole group needs to spend XP, and will be looking at the rulebook for options, your GM will be grateful for an extra copy at the table.
- Character sheets, if your GM is an absolute maniac who expects you to bring that to the session, rather than keeping it safe themselves.
What You Need to Run a Game
- Laptop and laptop charger. This is top of the list for me, because it’s where I have my notes, playlists, rulebooks, etc. You might use a tablet, or paper, or whatever.
- Safety tools. Loads of good options out there. I use an X-Card, because the biggest challenge I have with safety tools is encouraging people to use them, and I find the simplest ones get used most often. If I did Lines and Veils at the start of the campaign (which I do about 50% of the time), I bring that list to every session, and update as needed.
- Index cards. Absolutely essential for some games, like Microscope; close to essential for others, like Fate, or Blades in the Dark. But nice to have in almost every game – I use them for character name tents, trackers, or anything else that comes up.
- Tokens, like glass beads, poker chips, campaign coins, or something more game-specific. Use varies depending on the game, but I play a lot of games with metacurrency.
- Game peripherals. This is a vague catch-all category for anything else specific to your game, like special action card decks, stickers, arts and crafts materials, or whatever.
- GM notes. For me this is things like NPC character sheets, lists of NPC names, and complications I want to introduce into the story. Other stuff varies by game. If I’m running Fate, I want a list of all character aspects for compels. If I’m playing a game with a story beat advancement system, I want to know what everyone’s next story beat is. Etc.
- A GM screen, if you’re into that sort of thing. Rules reference sheets if not.
- Combat maps if you need them, paper to scribble on if not. Spare paper is probably a good thing to have anyway. Also miniatures and terrain, I suppose? I don’t play those kinds of RPGs, so what do I know.
- Other maps, such as hexmaps, world maps, or relationship maps, to put in the middle of the table. Something visual that anchors people in the fiction really helps to focus people’s attention, if you have the table space for it.
- Props, like in-character handouts. Anything more elaborate than that crosses the line into gimmicky and distracting for me, but your mileage may vary.
- A way to play music. I used to prepare a playlist of background instrumentals for every game, but after years of playing online (with extremely shoddy music player integration software), I’ve fallen out of the habit. I’d like to get back into it though.
What You Need for a Convention Game
- Entry ticket. If you show up for a game and can’t get into the building, everything else is kind of moot.
- Face masks. I’m not in the habit of wearing this at conventions any more, but some people are. If you see someone at your table wearing a mask, show the minimum level of courtesy, and reciprocate the gesture. Don’t be a dick.
- An identifying landmark. If you’re joining strangers in a public place to play a game, wear something distinctive so that people can identify you, and tell them what it is in advance. If you’re running a game at a convention, put something in the middle of the table that makes it obvious what you’re running. (Honestly, this is the only time I find GM screens useful.)
- Promotional materials. If you’re running a convention game on behalf of a publisher, provide them with direction to where they can buy the game in the trade hall. If the game isn’t out yet, give them a flier with instructions how to pre-order or sign up for the crowdfunding campaign.
- Food, drink, medication. Relevant for all games, of course, but easiest to forget during the frantic activity of a convention.