DIY Portable GM Kit!

Prior to CharCon, I mentioned that I was working on a bit of a project for said convention. It just so happens that I lucked out with getting it done not only on-time, but with days enough to spare to get the best loadout.

As I was on crutches for this convention, I began to ask myself: how much do I need to carry for a tabletop game? With that in mind, my goal was a simple one: can I get EVERYTHING needed for an RPG in one lightweight, easy to carry box?

I started by checking what options were out there, and while most options were really awesome in some ways, some were either really expensive (but still cool!) or not exactly what I wanted. There was also the time crunch, as I didn’t know about the crutches situation until just shy of three weeks before the con, so trying to order one of these things, however lovely they would be, was just not plausible.

I decided that, even though I was on limited mobility, time, and funding, I would find a way to make it work.

And damnit, I did!

“I want all of that…in this.”

==The Premise==

As I mentioned, the goal was to have my GM kit tucked away into a single box. Unlike carrying everything in a bag, I wanted to ensure that everything within the kit was usable in some way; even if I didn’t need everything packed (like extra pencils and the like), I didn’t want to have just a bag sitting there doing nothing.

My usual GM kit for cons and games on the go includes the following items:

  • Dice
  • Rulebook(s)
  • Writing instruments
  • Index Cards
  • Initiative Tracker cards (two sets in a box)
  • Tokens of some nature
  • Dice Tray

While I know a kit like this is hard to build for certain games (some games use a literal TON of dice per player, some games rely on minis and maps, etc), it’s still a good stepping stone to help condense the major, key elements of the game. While these other elements can be useful, they do need their own method of carrying I’m not covering or discussing here; that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

What I did, specifically for this convention, was to have a kit for my Fate games, both as a player and as a GM. My Fate Kit, and therefore the goals to pack for this convention, included the following:

Will it work?

That’s a lot of gear to pack for a convention, but I’ve learned the hard way that each item listed above has been vital to running games as well as generally surviving a convention playing/running Fate.

The end goal for my project was simple: have a carry case that turns into dice trays. While I could try to replicate the Adventurer’s Kit approach and have brackets for books/notes, I find them to get in the way for a convention, and opted for the dice trays instead.

==The Materials==

While my end-goal is to have a kit large enough for “normal” RPG rulebooks, like a standard D&D/Pathfinder book, I didn’t have the time or the luck to find something big enough for that. I did have luck finding this beauty at the local craft store.

IT FITS! I MUST BUY IT!

I found these “wooden plaques” at a local craft store and, with coupon, got a pair of them for under $10. I also picked up some glue while I was there, as I needed some way to secure the felt to protect everything during transit and to turn these boxes into dice trays.

The hardware was a bit tougher to find. As my goal was to have a box that would come apart to become a pair of dice trays, I couldn’t use basic hinges. I hit every hardware store in my area and no one carried lift-off hinges, which really put my project at risk. I decided then to change the design and went for a number of clasps and found a relatively cheap set of brass clasps online, leaving me with two for the “bottom”, then one clasp for each side.

Will the clasps work better than hinges? Let’s find out!

Knowing that I had a way to secure all of this, I still needed something to use as a handle. I went back to my early stages of blacksmithing and remember that people suggest using old, cheap (and sometimes second-hand) leather belts, so I found an extremely cheap “leather” belt to use (split leather isn’t leather to me; I worked in a leather shop and stand by this comment).

For the interior, I decided to use the felt I had on hand when I decided to make my own hat upon joining the SCA last year. I also already had the necessary brushes and the like to spread the glue, as well as a number of screws, drill bits, and more due to recent renovations.

==The Build==

The build for this was mostly straightforward, but with a few challenges added in.

Have tools, will build!

The first major challenge was the build of the two plaques, actually. After bringing them home, I realized rather quickly that these plaques/frames were made of a rather soft wood (I guessed pine; it’s actually basswood) and are essentially stapled together. To strengthen the box to ensure it won’t fall apart, I took some time to drive some nails into the joints, which is harder than it sounds as I had to ensure that I wouldn’t split the wood. As I was pressed for time and materials, I avoided using a “stabilizer” to strengthen the wood.

Next up was getting everything else for the hardware lined up. Because I went with clasps (and went on the cheap), they didn’t line up well or properly, which took more time to tinker with to get everything to lock in securely. I took the gamble and secured everything as best I could with the included screws (which meant a bit of drilling so as to not split the wood) and by eyeballing things, but it worked out in the end.

I also used this time to set up the handle by cutting a length of the belt, drilling into the belt and the wood, and putting the screws through it. Simple as that.

For the interior, my wife demanded that she be the one to line it (she wanted the practice for one of her projects), so I relented. Both sides had felt cut out to fill the space, then they were glued in place with the Elmers glue. From there, it was just a waiting game as we waited for it all to try.

I gave it a few days, just to be safe.

==The Result==

In the end, I think the project worked out.

With the design of the box, I can use them as a pair of dice trays to ensure that dice don’t go rolling off the table (great for my limited run Wizard dice when the first Dresden Files RPG came out), and the size of the box is JUST big enough to hold what I need.

Including my cat, apparently. Widget is doing his statement of “If I Fits, I Sits.”

While the kit itself isn’t perfect, it can hold recently released rulebooks from Evil Hat (the 6×9 size; so Fate Core, Blades in the Dark, Dresden Files Accelerated, etc) or even the “Explorers” editions of Savage Worlds. The spare room around the rulebook(s) can be used to store other materials such as dice or, in my case, a container of tokens.

I keep about 45 of them in a container for my Fate games. I might need my second one when running Cortex.

As this only fills one side of the box (and not to entirety; I could fit in another couple of copies of Fate Accelerated), I am able to stack more materials. For my purposes, I loaded it up with all of the cards I needed and still had space left over for pencils and the like.

Poe is ensuring that nothing stayed on the other side after re-opened the box.

As previously mentioned, this kit isn’t perfect. Basswood is soft, so I am not certain how durable it will be in the long run. The kit is also small, meaning I cannot store rulebooks from other games (like my copies of Deadlands Classic or any of my Star Wars RPGs) within it. Additionally, games that need a multitude of dice (like Cortex) or a plethora of minis (like how my friend and I run Star Trek Adventures by using our Attack Wing ships) don’t find much advantage in this due to the box not being large enough for either of the necessary collections. Seriously, I fill half the box with my dice collection I bring to a Cortex game (and I’m STILL low on dice for a full table!).

Seriously, that’s a LOT of dice on the table. My “Mystery Science Cortex” game showed me the limitations of my box/dice trays.

In the end, I dropped maybe $20 in new materials (not including the felt or tools I had on hand already) and left with an all-in-one GM kit for Fate. While it’s not perfect, it’s a good basis for me to build off of. If I can get the proper tools in the shop, I’m sure I can build something more durable (and much bigger), but for a weekend job, I’m not complaining about the results.

Widget approves of both the box and my taste in games, apparently.

Have you made anything similar, or have goals for your own gear? Talk about it in the comments!

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