Stocking Stuffers for Game Masters
Brace yourself; the winter holidays are coming! The shopping afterthought that always kills me is the Christmas stocking! I usually end up at Walgreens at 8:00 on December 23rd, buying a year’s worth of chocolates, deodorant, and airplane liquor bottles. As a GM, though, I often wish for a different holiday stocking. Something that would stock up my gaming bag so I’m not stuck running to the store on a Saturday afternoon, to try and find 100 blank index cards before 5 PM. More to the point: I want to do the same for the GMs who make my gaming life magical and fun.
So. Here’s a round-up of cool, inexpensive stocking stuffers for hanging over the fireplace.
My criteria for this list:
- Inexpensive. Anything on this list costing $10+ has a very high re-use value.
- Valuable for Game Masters. Players might find some of these items helpful, too, of course.
- Something a GM would use at the table. These are table-useful, not “novelty gift” items. They’re things your GM probably doesn’t have, or they’re consumable items that they can always use more of. The novelty light-up d20 from ThinkGeek is totally cool for players, but GMs do not want their dice to light up like a Christmas tree when they’re about to fudge that crit into a “barely hit.”
- Fits inside a Christmas stocking. I left out a lot of items that don’t fit in a stocking, like grid paper, customizable GM screens, page protectors, and non-folding dry-erase boards.
- System-agnostic (more or less). There’s a little bit for GMs who run miniatures-heavy games, and a bit for GMs with more narrative games, but the focus is on the tools we all pretty much need if we’re sitting down at an in-person table with a bunch of players. I could write a whole other list just for Dungeons & Dragons DMs, with the miniatures and the grids and the status markers...
With all that said, on with the list!
Index Cards and Half Index Cards. In a typical game session, I go through 5-30 of these. The half cards are perfect for writing situational boosts in Fate, and for making quick, shuffle-able cards. The full index cards are handy for name tents, initiative trackers, and general character notes. I sometimes color-code the initiative cards for “players” and “monsters.” Get the ones with a grid on them if you want to maximize value, or buy several different types, put them all in the stocking, and have fun.
Box of mechanical pencils. My personal preference is a Pentel .7 or .9mm Twist-Erase mechanical pencil, but I really don’t like loaning it out. It’s an expensive tool, and I’ve had more than one of them get “lost” by a player. Instead, I have a box of pencils, because on any given week, I am asked to loan one out. Mechanical pencils are best to avoid the dirt and annoyance of sharpening a pencil at the table.
Small Binder Clips. We use these to clip index cards together to keep them from getting lost or disorganized. We also use them as spontaneous miniature stands, initiative trackers, and chip bag closures.
The Noteboard. For $13, this is on the high end of the stuffer list, but it is totally worth it. Foldable, but lays flat during play. Grid and hex lines. Dry erase. Comes in a handy bag, with a dry erase pen.
Dry Erase Markers. They come in multiple colors and sizes. I like to have at least 3 colors available, with an attached eraser.
Smashed Marbles. Used as Fate points, Savage Worlds bennies, Epyllion Friendship Gems, D&D Inspiration, hit points, initiative trackers, and ad hoc miniatures when needed.
Poker Chips. When squashed marbles aren’t quite cutting it, or if you want a different heft, poker chips are great. Also useful if you have any kind of betting game-within-a-game.
Starburst. 1” candy squares. It’s like someone was a gamer when they designed these. Use them as one-shot minions on the table, and then eat your kills.
Blank Playing Cards. Four words send a cold streak of terror into the bowels of both GM and player alike: Deck of Many Things. What better way to represent them than by handing over your own personal Deck for players to draw from? You don’t even need to match the original Deck of Many Things. What if your deck had a puppy? What if the puppy were from Hell?
Rhodia Small grid-lined notepads. Like grid-marked index cards, but already bound together.
DriveThruRPG Gift Certificates. I have about 300 games in PDF format. Since the e-reader your DM needs to read these at the table isn’t really a stocking stuffer, how about a $5 or $10 gift certificate to DriveThruRPG.com? Seriously, it’s money well spent.
Short Order Heroes. At $20+shipping, I almost didn't put this on the list. But it is easily one of the best resources I have. It’s a deck of cards with a bunch of NPC traits, like “Poor” or “Fidgety.” You need an NPC on the fly? Draw three cards, take a deep breath, and describe the old, fidgety beggar on the corner who has a map to sell you. Every GM I have shared this with has loved it and recognized how useful it is at the table.
There you have it-- a dozen or so handy things to put in a holiday stocking for your favorite Game Master! Enjoy, and happy holidays!