GM Toolkit: Every Game Carry

Every Game Carry should minimize weight and bulk while maximizing the amount and quality of your gaming.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about what I carry to games. Thinking about what we carry around isn’t new; Google “everyday carry” for a rabbit hole of wallets, key chains and gadgets. The idea with everyday carry involves thinking about the tools we carry around in our pockets, and carrying things that are maximally efficient–pocket multi-tools, multi-function wallets, that sort of thing. As someone who once carried upwards of twenty GURPS books in a backpack along with the requisite dice and battle mat and notebooks, the idea of maximizing gaming while minimizing weight is definitely appealing. So on and off I look at my “every game carry” to try to improve what I take to conventions and local game stores to game.

Ideally, I want have everything I need to run the game I planned to run, but also to be able to game off the cuff, and if we don’t have a quorum of players for the regular game, I can run a one shot of something. Or if I’m at a convention, I want to have everything I would want in order to play just about anything. At conventions there is a certain amount of expectation on the GM to have game specific things ready for the game–character sheets, tokens like poker chips for games that have metagame currency–but I feel it’s on me to have dice, pencils and luxury things like my die rolling tray. Also ideally, especially if I’m spending the day walking around a convention, this gear should not weigh a ton. Bulk is also an issue at conventions, as I don’t want to be smacking into innocent civilians with my +2 backpack of arcane lore (add 1d6 bludgeoning) every time I turn to look at something. So my goal has become to trim down in both weight and bulk while keeping as much utility as possible.

I must admit I have a little bit of a bag problem. I love a good bag. I will buy a bag for coolness, without regard to whether I have a need for it. I have three backpacks, two messenger bags, and two to four smaller pouch/sling things, not counting actual luggage-type containers. It’s an addiction. For a long time I used a Bag of Holding from Thinkgeek, which holds an amazing amount of stuff. Laptop, gaming books, binder, and all the trimmings. It’s bigger on the inside. Because it does hold so much stuff, however, the temptation exists to carry all the things. It also fails the bulk tell test in that when it is loaded it almost as deep as it is tall, and two thirds as wide. Fully loaded it is a weapon, aimed at killing your shoulder if you’re carrying it around all day. Every Game Carry is about doing more with less.

My current bag is also from Thinkgeek: the Convention Bag of Holding. Like the Bag of Holding, it holds tons of stuff. The photo above is all the stuff I usually carry, not everything that will fit. At a convention I definitely want to leave room to carry the wonderful treasures I’ve bought. The smaller profile makes it easier to carry around conventions, and it’s reduced bulk makes it less of a weapon.

After the container, the next important bit are the game books. The CBofH (because I don’t want to type ‘Convention Bag of Holding’ over and over) will hold two full-sized 8.5×11 game books (I fit TimeWatch and 7thSea second edition in it to get them signed at Gen Con). But, for the sake of portability, very little beats game books on pdf. I carry my pdfs on an iPad Mini, because I like the form factor. Thanks to Dropbox, pretty much my entire gaming collection is available to me on a five by eight inch, three-fourths of a pound, slab of glass and silicon. I’ll leave it to the entire rest of the internet to tell you how cool and useful tablets are, but I think a tablet is to Every Game Carry what a smartphone is to regular everyday carry: a centerpiece of utility and access to information. There are tons of gaming apps as well, which deserve their own blog post. Evernote, OneNote and other organizers like Campaign Logger, die rollers (give me recommendations here, I’ve not got one I really like) and game specific companion apps from Hero Lab, to Syrinscape to Sylvan Master for Feng Shui 2.

Next is a way to organize dice and writing implements. For this I advocate an All Rolled Up, which is a gaming accessory that holds dice, pens, pencils, wet and dry erase pens in a compact roll. Tucked in mine I also carry a folding dice tray and a Noteboard, a folding portable whiteboard. This is really hard to find now, but hopefully will come back into stock. If you find one, grab it. If not, the center pocket is perfectly sized for a stack of index cards, which are hands down my favorite accessory for roll playing games. The dice bag part holds three sets of Fate dice, two full sets of polyhedrals, half a dozen d6es and a bag of forty-eight Fate Tokens.

In addition to the iPad Mini, I have a couple of five by eight notebooks for gaming notes. The Leichturm 1917 dotted notebook is great for both maps and notes, and I recently got a Traveller notebook from Code and Quill which I very much like. It’s dotted on one side and lined on the other, so I can put dungeon maps right next to the room descriptions. Both are also great for bullet journalling, if that’s a thing you do, or gaming bullet journalling which is a thing I just made up.

There are a few small electronics accessories for the side pockets in the CBofH. A Powercurve Mini surge protector which gives me an extra outlet and two grounded usb sockets in a really small form factor, two ten-foot charging cables (two because the iPad inconveniently uses a different socket than my phone). as tempting as longer cords were, I feel like ten feet is a decent compromise between ‘tripping hazard’ and ‘must sit on top of the power outlets.’ There is a folding bluetooth keyboard for the iPad which lets me work directly rather than also carrying around my laptop. I use Syrinscape for ambient audio at the table, so there is a mini speaker from Altec which is much more powerful than the iPad’s native speakers. For when I’m setting up these audio cues and don’t want to subject everyone in Panera to the sounds of kobold warriors, I have some earbuds in there as well. For convention purposes I also carry a couple power banks again for charging the electronic devices if I’m not somewhere I can use the Powercurve.

I carry a couple things from One Hundred, the Ledr tool roll and workbook. Both are made from supple and durable leather and bound with elastic. The tool roll has more pens and pencils, mostly colored dry erase pens for mapping, though there are two shorter power cords for situations where the usual ten foot cords would be cumbersome. The workbook combines a couple loops like the tool roll with a small notebook, making it super useful for idea capture. Frequently it’s in my pocket instead of in the bag, but that still counts as Every Game Carry. When I get a business card at a convention it usually gets tucked into the workbook with a note written on it, or tucked into the pages of the book next to an appropriate note.

The front pocket of the CBofH is interesting, because there is a clear plastic insert pocket inside it that’s intended to hold a full-sized iPad (the plastic is designed so that you can operate the iPad while it’s still in the pocket. The whole thing folds open ninety degrees,so the tablet can be used without taking the bag off your shoulder. I almost never use this feature of the bag for several reasons. First, the iPad Mini doesn’t fit the pocket well. Unless you have a ten inch tablet in there the plastic shifts and fails to perform as well. Second, I don’t want to be that guy who stops in convention hall traffic to unzip his bag and check on something. But, the pocket is still useful, and I put convention maps in it, or mini schedules. I’m not going to open this pocket the full ninety degrees, so I can use it hold more stuff, like an eyeglass kit (the tiny screws and screwdriver one), a business card holder, mints, glasses cleaning fluid and space for little things if I pick them up. Less gaming specific, more just getting around.

My Every Game Carry includes a couple decks of cards as well, specifically a genre appropriate Gamemaster’s Apprentice deck. These cards are covered with useful randomizers, sense prompts (like a smell in the room, or a sound) random names, etc. They’ve been around since 2014 and I’m still finding new ways to use them. I carry this in an Ultrapro deckbox, which holds a bit over a hundred cards, so there’s space to also tuck an Encounter deck in from Inkwell Ideas.

The last thing on this Every Game Carry bag is a little bottle of sriracha sauce. Because sometimes I want to make my food more spicy. These come in packs of three from Amazon, and the sriracha comes from the grocery store.

My way is not, of course, the one true way. At Gen Con I saw portable wheeled tool kits for Pathfinder play with drawers to hold tons of unpainted Reaper minis, stacks of rule books , dice and accessories. That GM had everything at his fingertips, and didn’t carry it on his back. More than I want to do, but it seemed to suit the needs he had. Hopefully this has spurred you to at least think about what you carry to game, and how. Let me know in the comments what your Every Game Carry looks like.