12 Tools Every Dungeon Master Needs at Their Table
Whether you’re looking for something enticing to surprise the players of your current campaign or you’re just embarking on your very first adventure, dm tools and props can be your saving grace. The right DM tools make it easier for you to manage your campaign -- and make it easier for your characters to understand what's going on. We've compiled a list of absolutely everything you need to make your next campaign a hit, including multiple options depending on your budget and your goals.
1. The DM Screen
Never, ever let them know what you’re thinking. A DM screen serves multiple purposes: it hides your rolls, provides a cheat sheet, and -- let’s face it -- builds up a sense of gravitas. After all, you’re not just some player. You’re a DM. Look at your fancy screen!
The best screen depends on what you’re using it for. If you just want a fast reference manual, the 5e DM Screen is a completely free, online utility that you can load up on your laptop. There are also free, printable screens like the Fitz’s 5e DM Screen.
Now, if you want an air of danger and drama, that’s another thing entirely. That’s when you pull out the Nerd Wood Custom Wooden Dungeon Master'sScreens. Meanwhile, Hexer’s Game Master Screen can be customized with print outs, and still provides a convenient (and attractive) barrier.
Highest quality: Nerd Wood Custom Hand Made Dungeon Master's Screen
Best overall: Hexer’s Game Master Screen
2. The Table Topper
Most of us grew up playing on scratched dining room tables or plastic card tables, but no more. Now we’re classy. We have our own homes, friends, and keys. We can afford a table topper. Set the stage for your campaign with a convenient, foldable solution.
It’s perhaps not a surprise that the most convenient option is a poker table. The HOMCOM Deluxe Foldable Poker Card Game Tabletop can be carried anywhere and placed on any table, giving you a nice, even playing space and even slots for dice. If you’re looking for something with more flair for your stately wooden table, the Game Toppers Mycroft gives you an expansive playing area. And if you just want a cheap mat, check out the Tabletop Companion Board.
Most Affordable: Tabletop Companion Board Game Mat
Highest Quality: Game Toppers LLC Mycroft
Best Overall: HOMCOM Deluxe Foldable Poker Card Game Tabletop
3. The Initiative Tracker
“When do I go again?”
Stop your players from asking this question incessantly with a visible initiative tracker. If you really want to go cheap, just use index cards: it’s simple and easy. Fold index cards and place them on the edge of your DM screen, ordered by initiative score.
If you want a gift for someone or just want something incredibly ornate, the Hand Forged Initiative Tracker will provide some substance to your table. But there's also a simpler solution: the Pathfinder Combat Pad. Sure it’s for Pathfinder, but you know what? Pathfinder is just sideways universe DnD anyway.
Most Affordable: Index Cards
Highest Quality: Hand Forged Initiative Tracker
Best Overall: Pathfinder Combat Pad
4. The Dice
Does anyone know a dungeon master without eighteen sets of DnD dice? Possibly, if you know one with nineteen sets. Get dice for your NPCs. Get dice for your bosses. Get dice for specific spells, such as an entire sack of them for a fireball. Just get dice.
The One Pound Bag of Dice has 18 complete sets of high quality dice, perfect for those who want to get stocked on the cheap. Pass out some cool dungeons and dragons dice at your next event and get everyone going. Meanwhile, there's nothing better than the heavy clunk of Metal Dice when you're running a boss.
In general, it’s important to have a large set of dice in case players don’t have them, which is what makes the Skullsplitter Dice Set a valuable addition to any table. We're obviously biased ;p
Most Affordable: One Pound Bag o’ Dice
Highest Quality: SkullSplitter Metal Dice
Best Overall: SkullSplitter Dice Set
5. The Dice Box
Dice boxes protect your dice, protect the table from your dice, and keep your dice from rolling off the table. With a dice box, you can roll metal dice anywhere, and make sure your players get clear, clean rolls without any fudging.
We have an affordable, easy to use, Dice case that can accomodate as a rolling surface, and hold plenty of dice. But if you want an upgraded, upscale model, consider Merchant Green Leather's Collapsible, Rollable Dice Tray.
Most Affordable: SkullSpliter Dice Cases
Highest Quality: Merchant Green Leather’s Collapsible, Rollable Dice Tray
Best Overall: SkullSpliter Dice Cases
6. The Dice Tower
If you want to make sure your dice are random, a dice tower can help. Some DMs use them for transparency. Other DMs use them for whimsy. But regardless, a good dice tower isn't cheap. Cheaper dice towers tend to fall apart and just interfere with rolls.
That’s why we’d suggest the Clear Dice Tower if you’re looking for something affordable, though the Dueling Dice Tower may provide some additional pageantry. And the Silver Lustre Dice Tower is a good all around choice.
Most Affordable: Clear Dice Tower
Highest Quality: Dueling Dice Tower
Best Overall: Silver Lustre Dice Tower
7. The Mapping Tool
Battles need maps. But there's a tremendous variety regarding how you can display them. Some campaigns are battle heavy. Other campaigns are RP heavy. Different campaigns have different demands.
The dry erase Battle Grid Game Mat lets you sketch your map out in 2D really quickly, while the incredible Dungeon Dealer Dungeon Tiles provides 3D, painted scenery for your players. As a compromise between the two, tile sets can be purchased like the Dungeon Tiles Master Set.
Most Affordable: Battle Grid Game Mat
Highest Quality: Dungeon Dealer Dungeon Tiles
Best Overall: Dungeon Tiles Master Set
8. The Reference Guide
Quick reference guides are really essential for new DMs, and even more experienced DMs may want a sheet for each system specifically. There are some easy reference DM tools available for DnD 5e specifically, such as the DnD5e QuickRef sheet.
If you want something more involved, the DnD 5e Quick Reference Guide can be printed out and placed inside of your screen. And The Deck of Many is a reference deck that includes practically anything you need, from spells to monsters.
Most Affordable: DnD5e QuickRef
Highest Quality: The Deck of Many
Best Overall: DND 5e Quick Reference Guide
9. The Music
“Hey Alexa, play final boss music.”
If you really want to increase the immersion of your campaign, consider the addition of ambient music and sound effects. There's nothing more exciting than walking into a room and hearing the sound of boss music flaring up… especially if it's actually just a red herring.
YouTube offers a wide selection of music, but if you want backing for everything from DnD to Starfinder, TableTop Audio has got it all. TableTop Audio lets you select ambient music on the fly from your browser.
Most Affordable: YouTube
Highest Quality: TableTop Audio
Best Overall: TableTop Audio
10. The Spell Cards
Creating your own spell cards or buying spell cards can make running NPCs, enemies, and bosses much easier. If the party runs into a bardic NPC, you don't need to immediately remember how to run a bard. Instead, just focus on RPing and pull up some cards.
Once again, the most affordable option is going to be index cards. There are also the official sets of DnD cards, from arcane to divine, and once again the Deck of Many is an extremely convenient resource.
Most Affordable: Index Cards
Highest Quality: The Deck of Many
Best Overall: DnD 5e Spellcaster Cards
11. The Miniatures
Few things can really bring a campaign to life the way a well-placed miniature does. Whether you're plunking down an immense dragon in front of your level 3 party or surrounding them with dozens of rats, miniatures have both impact and utility.
Reaper Miniatures carries a ton of old school miniatures. They're low resolution, but very affordable. For all around minis including pre-painted minis, the Miniature Market is the place to go. But for the highest quality, Hero Forge lets you customize your mini from scratch and even print it in metal.
Most Affordable: Reaper Miniatures
Highest Quality: Hero Forge
Best Overall: Miniature Market
12. The Notes
The simplest of DM campaign tools is just a note taker app. Note taker apps make it possible to jot down ideas on the fly, as well as easily referencing what you've written so far. And they can get quite advanced.
Evernote is a free solution that syncs between your phone and your computer. But if you want something more advanced, the phone app Game Master gives you what you need to create a world. And if you want something even more advanced, Realm Works is a fully featured DnD realm builder, perfect for those who are creating their own homebrew campaign.
Most Affordable: Evernote
Highest Quality: Realm Works
Best Overall: Lion's Den Game Master
It's time to get started on your next journey. While the above tools are a great way to elevate your campaign, it isn't the tools that make the DM. As long as you have the imagination to carry your campaign, you can run a campaign with nothing but dice in hand.
Last updated: January 27, 2019
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