by Mike Shea on 12 August 2013
Note, this article updates the original February 2012 version.
When we GMs are off to a gaming convention, it can be pretty tough to bring only what we need and avoid filling a U-Haul full of Dwarven Forge and a library of sourcebooks. While we've covered the basics of survival for a gaming convention, today we're going to look specifically at some options for our extremely portable GM-focused RPG gaming kit. This kit is particularly tuned to help run a couple of games at a gaming convention. With a major shift towards rules-light story-heavy games, we can pack a lot lighter than previous years and not mismanage our players' expectations.
There are many simple RPGs that pack up very well for a convention. Dungeon World, Fate Core, 13th Age, and the D&D Starter Set are all excellent con-friendly systems. None of them require fancy tabletop setups — you could go completely mini-less if you want. A nice dry-erase mat and some monster tokens can't hurt if you're running a more traditional D&D game.
Of all of them, however, Fate Accelerated is probably the most con-friendly game we can get. Not only is it portable but it is one of the few systems we can run that lets people build interesting unique characters instead of pregens and still have time for a game. Our own Dungeons of Fate was built for this very specific purpose.
There are some basic supplies you'll want to have on hand regardless of what system you plan to run. 3x5 cards are a must. They're perfect for initiative cards, DM notes, encounter effect cards, the X-Card, or even Fate Core or Fate Accelerated character sheets. Always bring extra dice, character sheets, and extra pencils. Assume players will come to the table with nothing at all.
The Pathfinder Dry Erase Flip Map is one of the most useful accessories you can bring, even if you're not playing a game requiring a grid. It has the grid if you need it but it works perfectly well for small drawings of areas or rooms or strange symbols. It's also a great way to track initiative, damage, Fate-style area aspects or anything else you want to draw in front of the players. A couple of good dry-erase markers are a must if you're bringing a flip mat.
If you want to go even lighter, you can just bring a single laminated sheet of paper instead of a full flip mat. A laminated piece of parchment paper looks great, lets you draw all the same stuff you might draw on a flip mat, save the big gridded battle arenas, and is both super cheap and super light. If you don't have access to a laminator, you can use a nice sheet of parchment paper in a page protector the same way.
The company Arcknight Games recently launched a series of Kickstarters to fund Flat Plastic Miniatures. I got in on the first Kickstarter and I love the results. These flat miniatures pack up even smaller and lighter than cardboard pawns and you can pack a couple of hundred of them in an envelope. I use a business card holder to sort them out into groups. Fold the business card holder in half and throw a rubber band around it to keep them from falling out all over the place. At about $120 for a base set, they're not exactly cheap but they're still way cheaper than miniatures.
Here's a more complete list of all the items you want to stick in your GM walk-away bag:
iPads and other tablet computers have changed the landscape of tabletop RPGs. While we might have had to pack a suitcase full of sourcebooks, now we can load up on PDFs and bring all our favorite games on a single device. You can even get away with one of the bigger smartphones. Since extra PDFs add no weight, feel free to fill it up. Ensure all your PDFs are locally stored, though. You won't know what sort of wifi setup you might find (or not find, for that matter).
For D&D 5e, the application Fight Club 5e for the iPhone is a great way to get D&D 5e OGL content on your phone, more than enough to run a bunch of games at a convention.
The beauty of this hobby of ours is how limitless it is. We could probably play an RPG with nothing but a few 3x5 note cards and some dice if that's all we had. Or we could go the other direction an build the entire Undermountain out of Dwarven Forge for the price of a decent car. With the kit we've outlined here, we have all of the tools we need to run some great games and have a bunch of laughs with our friends. Enjoy!
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