I first started playing D&D back in college and I was fortunate enough to join an already established group with a DM who owned EVERYTHING we could possibly want: dungeon tiles, minis, dice, and every single 3.5 book in existence. Being rather superstitious, I later had to get my own dice, but initially I didn’t need to bring anything to the game.
Now that I’m acting as GM/DM with a new group, we’re essentially starting from scratch. There are many things I’d like to get to help enhance the whole game experience, but many of those things are rather expensive. So I went on the hunt or some inexpensive options and prioritized the most important items.
These can definitely be a bit pricey. If you have the money, they are totally worth the investment. All of the books are hardback with full color pages. They are quality and definitely worth the money. The cost of books can add up quickly with the many supplements that come out for various systems. Many systems also now offer PDF options in addition to the physical books. I prefer to have a physical book to refer to, but PDFs will do in a pinch. You might want to start out with the PDF option and see how it goes before dropping the extra coin for a physical book.
This one is probably among the simplest. Experienced players will already have dice. If your players don’t have dice, there are a lot of affordable options. You can buy a whole pound of dice and have more than enough for your whole group. There are also many virtual dice rollers that can be used, including an official dice roller offered by Wizards of the Coast.
Do you even need them? There is a large range of opinions on this matter. I’ve heard some say that they distract from the story while others like having a visual representation. I tend to fall into the second category. I would love to have detailed maps and appropriate minis for every encounter, but this is where you can drop some serious coinage.
To start out, my group has been making do with cheap dollar store figures–things like a “Tube o’ Dinosaurs” and so on. We’ve also stolen figures out of other board games as needed. The truth is that miniatures are really expensive and there aren’t very many options. I had hoped to find a sort of “grab bag” at a discounted rate but no such luck. I’ve decided to use alternatives and build my collection of real minis little-by-little as I have the funds.
I decided to print my own minis on card stock using some free PDFs that I found via a quick google search. For example, these Order of the Stick inspired downloads by iheartprintandplay. Then I hopped over to Amazon to get some bases. The other benefit to these is that I can number them, making it easier on me to track initiative and HP on my baddies during combat.
In my search for the most affordable minis, I found Reaper Miniatures and they seem like the best deal so far. The seemed cheap on Amazon, but very few were Prime eligible so the shipping was crazy. Then I went to their website directly and discovered that they will ship to you for free if you spend at least $35. They also have a few boxed sets that are super cost effective. My final order averaged at less than $3 per mini and I paid no shipping, so I’m pretty pleased. The only catch is that the minis are unpainted, so be prepared to do a little work to make them pretty. Personally, this was a bit of a bonus for me because I quite enjoy that sort of thing. I’ll write a follow-up post when they arrive and get painted.
I got a wet-erase map on Amazon that has served me pretty well, but it can also slow things down a bit to stop and draw out a room when players are ready to start killing things. You could draw maps ahead of time, but remember that some may never get used if your players decide to take you in a completely unexpected location. Also, you may end up with a large stack of maps that get used once and then end up in the trash. Dungeon tiles can be useful because you can move them around as needed, but you have to be willing to spend the money.
I’ve opted to use a notebook with graph paper for mapping dungeons as they uncover rooms so they have something to refer back to. I also use a wet-erase for combat situations and only draw rough shapes of anything that might obstruct their view.
DM Screen & Organization
Some DMs/GMs don’t like using screens, but others find it very beneficial so you have to see what works for you. The benefits are two-fold: players can sneak a peak at things they should know yet and you can have quick references and “cheat sheets” to refer to rather than wasting time thumbing through books. I did some searching around different “homemade” screen options and opted to go with a binder option I found on youtube, which you can see below. I like this option because I can have a lot of different info in the binder to flip through as needed. I also still have pockets for stashing any note cards and such. While I was at the store, I also grabbed a couple of cheap report covers and put my players’ character sheets in the plastic page covers as well. Then they can use dry-erase markers to track their HP on the plastic cover rather than wearing out the sheet with constant erasing.
Do you have any DM tips or tricks to offer? Comment below.
Related: George Carlin talks about STUFF.