by Mike Shea on 29 May 2017
Note, this article updates the original February 2012 version.
When we GMs are off to a game away from home, it can be 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 portable GM-focused RPG gaming kit. This kit is tuned to help run a couple of games at a gaming convention. With a major shift towards rules-light games, we can pack a lot lighter than previous years and still run some great games.
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 Theater of the Mind if you want. A nice dry-erase mat and some miniatures can't hurt if you prefer a map and minis.
Of all of the rules-lite systems, 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 that lets people build interesting unique characters right at the table instead of using pregens. 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, GM notes, the X-Card, or even Fate Core or Fate Accelerated character sheets. Extra dice, character sheets, and extra pencils also help. 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 cheap and lightweight. 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.
Don't forget to stick a few GM Campaign Worksheets into the kit as well to give you some cheat sheets and help you focus your game on the characters.
Arcknight Games has a fantastic set of Flat Plastic Miniatures. 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. Business card holders let you sort and pack them up easily. 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. Try to get in on one of their many Kickstarters to get a special deal on them.
If D&D is your primary system, the Starter Set is a wonderful package of stuff to stick in our GM kit. The two books have enough rules, monsters, and adventures to run hours and hours of games and the level 1 to 5 pregen characters are perfect to get players quickly up to speed.
Here's a more complete list of all the items we might want to stick in our GM walk-away kit:
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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