Contessa: GM Tools

I read a blog on the Contessa website about the GM tools that the writers and GM’s of Contessa use to make their games.  It is a really interesting read that you can access from here.  They talk about rituals, tools, software and the like.  I thought I might answer their questions over here on my blog so you can see how I differ or align with them!

Do I have any rituals when planning? Like a certain music I put on, a particular toy that’s always next to my notebook, or even a special set of planning dice.

I like having music on when I prepare but I prefer it out loud and that can be hard to do in the family home because I am the only one that likes my music.  I do have rituals like putting all my notes in the same notebook and the notebooks I use have to be premium and attractive.  I also will not write with a regular pen, it has to be a fancy pen.  It is just how I roll 🙂

Let’s start analogue for now. What’s my favourite hands-on tool for planning games?

It has to be like above.  I have to have special pens and a beautiful notebook.  I may have several notebooks on the go but they will each have their purpose.  I have a beautiful little notebook that I make my maps in.  I have a new fantastic notebook for my fantasy games.  For my supers game I have a notebook which every page is a picture of a different wall (generally outside walls) and my Traveller or Sci-fi book is a Grumpy Cat notebook :).  For my FATE games, of course I have index cards.

The pens that I use for writing are nearly always gel pens and for mapping I use some art-line paint markers to ink them with.  I treat them like babies as I have never spent so much on pens.  Pencil I use, mainly in my in-person games and that is generally a .7 mm clutch pencil that I have had for over four or five years now.

GM Tools
You can see my trusty clutch pencil and my brand new notebook!
All right digital nerds. What’s my favourite digital tools for planning games?

I am a bit of a digital nerd so there is going to be a lot of information I need to get out here.  I have to say I prefer Evernote over OneNote BUT that said, ever since I got Realm Works, those other two tools have gathered bit dust they have been so lonely.  I also love Hero Lab for building characters and I also like the Hero Sheets online service but I have not been there to build a character in a while also.

Really, if Realm Works actually had a virtual tabletop incorporated I would do nothing else.  It is a high powered relational database front end that does all of the linking for you!  It can take images, maps, characters, makes me coffee…  OK, maybe not the coffee but if I could marry an RPG program I would have to convince my wife to move somewhere that allowed for multiple marriages as I am that much in love with this piece of software.

I do a lot of online gaming and I use virtual table tops so I spend a lot of time making and modifying images online.  I use GiMP to do that manipulation as it is a program that I am super comfortable with, it is free and it is also extremely powerful.  The virtual tabletop I use is currently Roll 20 but future Pathfinder games will be done in Fantasy Grounds once the current campaign is over.  Other game systems might use Roll 20 or Fantasy Grounds or even Tabletop Connect!

For ambient sounds I use my Syrinscape on my iPad and run it through my super duper stereo with Bluetooth.  It is such an effective tool and takes no time to use at all.  You really should check out the review of Syrinscape that I did in 2014 to learn what I am talking about.  They are a great company and produce a brilliant product that my players comment on every game.

On top of this I try to get everything through a Google+ Hangout because it does a great job of just organising everything.  It asks for RSVP’s and gets the players alerts and reminders as well as myself.  The hangout allows me to see the player and the VTT at the same time (though Fantasy Grounds is not compatible) and that allows me to read the players level of engagement which is great.

What do you take to the table with you? Just your notes or are you hauling books, figures, and a laptop in your gaming bag?

Tricky one this one because most of the time I play online.  Online games is always my laptop, my iPad and sometimes a game book.  That is all.  With my in-person game it is always my notebook, my iPad to run Syrinscape with, my stereo (that stays at the location), the game books and my chain mail dice bag!

This one is a bit tricky to answer actually because my in-person game is at a venue that I leave a lot of stuff.  I have literally case-loads of miniatures, flip mats, dry erase markers, my special GM screen, the boat I built for the pirate campaign, and a load of other stuff that just stays at the venue (we play in the lube bay of a service station).  So it would be difficult not to use these things but it all depends on the game and the night what I use.

Do I bring anything to hand out to my players in face-to-face games?

Rarely do I bring an actual handout for the players.  I use the Roll 20 handout function a lot for the online players but with my in person game I tend to use props like the boat and no handouts.  I do use poker chips for inspiration in 5E if that counts!

Do I plan differently for online games? How do I handle handouts?

I do plan a lot differently for my online games.  I spend a lot of time in Roll 20 prior to the game making sure that the dynamic lighting on the maps are right, the maps are scaled well and any images are put in as handouts.  I use the handouts in the VTT to provide players visual references for the characters by preparing images and putting them in to better help them visualise the action.  In-person the players can look at my whole body movement which goes a long way to help them visualise the action.

Sometimes I set up communities for my online games too.  This allows them to talk about the game in a place where no one else can see the conversations.  I have to say that a lot of the conversation that goes on there is not necessarily game related, but that is good, it is all community building.  I have to say that the group I have for my online Pathfinder game has some of the nicest people I have ever come across as part of it.

In the end…

I had fun writing those notes up.  It is an enjoyable thing to sit and think about the way you do stuff so I thank the crew at Contessa for inspiring me to do it.  Let me know how you do it in the comments.  Keep rolling!

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