By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 24 July 2019
Conventions are the best and worst places for me to explore. It’s the worst as I’m always spending more money than planned, but it’s the best as I get to see new things before they are officially out and can sometimes swing the finances for them for review.
Such was the case when I stopped by Hrothgar’s Hoard at CharCon this year. Now, this isn’t my first time perusing his wares, but after years of abusing his products, including a devil dice trap, a coaster, and seeing a friend utilizing a dice tower over the last few years, I feel confident checking out his new merchandise whenever I see the shop.
This time around, a little sign caught my eye, and after some discussion and negotiations, I forked over funds and left with a new thing to review. I find it only tradition now to compare it to the DM kit and dice tray I’ve gotten over the last few years.
Writer’s Note: This product reviewed here is still undergoing changes, and has an upcoming Kickstarter. The opinions here are of an early version of the final product, and may not readily reflect the final product. Extra criticism has been made to offer constructive input to the creator before the final wave of product becomes a reality.
The Complete DM Solution is advertised as “Everything a DM needs to run their game in one, transportable system.” The “system” consists of a storage box that, when opened, acts as a dice tray, a dice tower (included), and a DM screen (with dry erase board). The dice tower is held in place by magnets, and when not in use, can be laid into the box for easy storage. The remaining space is perfectly sized for a dice chest.
All wooden elements are made from either domestic or exotic hardwoods, are sized to hold a standard mousepad (with some provided by artists such as Charles Urbach, Diesel, and Grace Alyse), and has extra customization options include etching and 3D sculpts for the top of the box.
==What You Get==
When I purchased a Complete DM Solution, I went with a domestic wood (Walnut) and decided to go all-in by including the dice chest. As advertised, the box has an inset dry erase board, a mousepad (I went with art by Charles Urbach), and a magnetized dice tower, with my dice chest being an add-on in matching wood and design.
The overall box uses a simple latch to keep it closed, a hinge that locks the box in at about a 100 degree angle, and has feet to give it a slight bit of elevation. The kit is put together using traditional jointery (interlocking parts that are almost puzzle-like), and are surprisingly durable.
The dice chest uses the same kind of latch, but the hinge allows it to be opened to a 180 degree angle, making it more like a book. The dice chest includes foam inserts that can store fourteen dice (twenty eight if you’re willing to double stack), a miniature, and has a small section for pencils, pens, and markers.
My box measures approximately 9.75 inches long, 8.25 inches wide, and 2.25 inches tall, with the dice tray having a depth of around 2 inches, which is well within the variance for the approximate 10 inches by 9 inches by 2.5 inches pitched by the product.
The first thing anyone will notice is the beauty of these boxes. The colors, nice shapes, and metal accents all make these stand out; I will not by shy about putting this on my shelf as a decorative piece when it is not in use. The appearance (and versatility) was enough to make players at my table say there were jealous, and didn’t know if they should be jealous of this kit, my Nomad’s Armory, or just my general taste in gear. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
With that in mind, the form factor for this is rather surprising. The kit is big enough to hold everything advertised, making it not terribly big, but not too small, either. If you’re working with a rules light game, you can carry just about everything in here!
One design element I absolutely love is the side-swapping tower. Thanks to magnets being on the left and right sides of the main box, you can place your tower wherever you prefer, or to make it convenient for multiple people to use. I personally shared the tray and tower with players at the convention, and making that swap made things so much nicer over the course of the games that I both played and ran.
Unlike most dice trays, the Complete DM Solution has feet, giving it some elevation off of the ground. Not only does this help it stand out (ha!) and look good on a shelf when not in use, but it also provides protection from the ever-dreaded spilled drink. I’ve also used these to my advantage over the course of the convention, as it is just tall enough to sneak in a copy of Fate Accelerated, pencils, and index cards.
Finally, as an art fan, I love how I can get other mouse pads to add more art choices! While I do love the work of Charles Urbach, sometimes I like the art of my kit to match whatever it is I’m running (or just want to enjoy the view). With this design, I can do exactly that, and it serves the dual purpose of muffling the clatter of dice…or I can remove them for that nice math-rock clatter against the built-in liner! Either way, it’s still a win!
I’ll come out and say the obvious: you are buying a handmade product, so you might have some imperfections. Mine had a few minor problems, such as the whiteboard not being a proper fit (gaps) and the protective coating for the wood pooling in some areas. Again, this is a handmade product, so each one will be unique in its perfections and imperfections, so your Complete DM Solution and preferences may influence what you think about it.
While the DM Solution has some interesting ideas, I find that some of the design elements are a bit flawed. The balance of the kit can be a bit “top heavy” at times, making writing on the board a bit more of a hassle than it should be for fear of it tipping. Additionally, as the top portion is locked in place when opened, it actually proves to be a bit more problematic. Using it as a DM screen, I am limited to what I can write on my side, can’t easily turn things around, and again, writing on it is risky without holding it down; I found myself effectively limited to light scribbles and hash marks. There’s also a problem with it being used by a player or in a narrative-heavy game that doesn’t need a GM screen; it just gets in the way.
If the box used lift-off hinges or some way to allow it to open at set degrees, it’d be even better to keep on hand regardless of game! For now, it’s a bit limiting, in my opinion.
Speaking of the dry-erase board, I’m not entirely sold on it being the best solution for writing things. While it is a lower cost solution, I find that it’s just not up to the task long-term. For example, by the end of my weekend of using it at a convention, I noticed that the corner of my board was already starting to peel off, revealing the cork/cardboard underneath. This may be due to the space gaps around it, but it is a note of frustration for me.
I think that a different writing surface, like a steel sheet (like the Elderwood boxes use), using a sturdy plastic, or even a whiteboard paint could work out.
On a related note, I do have an issue with the the main box should you not buy up the dice chest: you’ll be facing a challenge of what to do with the empty space. I at first thought I’d load it with loose dice, but realized that’s a bad idea as they would damage the dry erase board (especially with my metal dice). If I’m not using the dice box (and it’s ability to hold up to 28 dice and a “standard” D&D mini, of which my custom figure is not), I’m basically down to using that space for smaller (and softer) dice bags or certain other tools (like cards). Not quite sure how I feel on that just yet, so my opinion may change in time and more use.
Finally, the kit has some sizing concerns I would be remiss if I did not mention. Please note that many of these are personal preference, so your own mileage may vary.
Due to the legs of the box and it’s overall size, it is a bit difficult to pack and toss into a bag without risking something. I put this in a reusable grocery tote with the rest of my convention gear, and the legs pushed through the side. When I tried putting it into my standard messenger bag, it proved to be a waste of time due to the legs and small size making it impossible to have it go “around” anything, and it was also digging in to books and into the bag itself. Carrying this is your best solution, but as it lacks a handle, it becomes a balancing act and generally problematic. Small and portable, but surprisingly difficult to transport.
Thankfully, I learned that legs are optional for your kit, so if you are on the go and want to throw this into a bag, you’ll want to forego the legs (and, in my opinion, go for the brass corners if you’re going with a dark wood like walnut). If you want the elevation and protection legs provide, be sure to have a good transport solution on hand if you aren’t running from home.
From personal preference as a GM on the go, I like to store as much as possible in anything I bring with me (such as I have done for three years now with my DIY Portable GM Kit). With the Complete DM Solution, after filling it with the dice chest and tower, I had JUST enough room to store a copy of Fate Accelerated…and that’s it. Granted, it means I can bring everything I need to run except paper and character sheets, but it’s not the most ideal solution.
Even if I empty the central part of the kit, the box is barely large enough to store Fate Accelerated, and is just a hair too small to hold any of the hardcover titles from Evil Hat (and therefore the Explorer’s/Adventurer’s Editions of titles).
When I saw the Complete DM Solution, my initial hope was to be able to fit in everything needed for an Evil Hat game should it be emptied out, as it looked just about the right size for it. As my rolls are usually made in the open, I had hoped to use this for storage, then have the dice tray and dry erase board on hand to remove my need for those additional peripherals. This is built as a toolkit and not a storage solution, and while it can be re-purposed as such to some degree, it won’t be an ideal fit.
When I picked this up, I mentioned how I had tested previous and similar products. We agreed that it wasn’t the best idea here, as the hinges are not made for heavy impact, and abusing a beautiful piece of work like this is just wrong and ruins the aesthetic. Wear and tear from bag and convention transit is one thing; throwing it down the basement stairs is just full-on abuse.
Sadly, the new addition to my family, a little ginger cat named Babel, had other plans he put into motion when he knocked it off the table while I was vacuuming.
On the plus side, it absolutely survived the near three foot fall, and it landed with a loud thump. It went from my kitchen table onto a linoleum-esque floor, and without seeing it, I don’t know what sort of momentum it carried, as my little boy here loves to run and jump.
That said, it did take some damage on the corner on which it landed, and I believe that the landing may have bent the clasp a bit, making it frustrating to close. I’m honestly lucky it didn’t land and break a foot, as that would have been a bit more problematic than a lightly bent clasp.
Essentially, as long as you aren’t dealing with a cat hazard at the table or literally throwing your GM bag around with this in it (or just throwing this around in general), it will survive the abuse you’ll put it through. If a drop only gave that kind of mark, it’ll survive your bag. This puts it into the middle category of the review solely because some of us GMs on the go tend to have scenarios in which things get abused more often than not, especially when checked baggage is involved. If you plan to go with the route of travelling GM: don’t get feet and secure this well!
Finally, some may find the dice tray to be a bit too deep depending on game and preference. At some parts of the convention, I was a player and sharing my dice tray and tower with other players, and while it was a convenience for us, it made it truly impossible for anyone beyond us to see into it (even the person sitting across from me). This is absolutely perfect for a GM that needs to hide rolls, but it can be a bit frustrating if you need to make an easily accessible “open roll.”
Again, this is a matter of personal preference and a matter of what kinds of games you run. If you focus on a single game that has hidden rolls, such as D&D, this is great as it is designed for privacy and storing the whole kit, but if you are using it for a game that promotes more open rolling, it isn’t going to be as comfortable as something smaller.
==The Price Talk and Comparison==
Like my review of the Nomad’s Armory last year, it’s worth noting what the closest option is with regards to competition, as well as reminding readers that these are artisan items crafted by skilled woodworkers. As a blacksmith that has had to do a fair amount of shopping for wooden components, raw materials are not cheap.
When I bought my Complete DM Solution, I went with a domestic wood for it and the dice chest to get that complete set up. According to the early view of the Kickstarter, this would cost $89 for the DM Solution, plus an additional $39 for the accessory case. Buying this would be a grand total of $128 before shipping and the like.
So how does it compare?
Master Monk (previously Thinking Monk) recently had a Kickstarter for their Nomad’s Armory and new Magnetic Dice Tower. While I find them to be more portable and, with testing, a bit more rugged for the on-the-go GM, you will be paying a bit more for that: the tower starts at $65, the trays start at $68, the dice boxes start at $33, and the Nomad’s Lid upgrade (to hold writing implements) adds another $12. This means you will be running bill of $178 for similar tools and comparable dice/pencil storage, but lacking in the GM screen/privacy department while also having a much smaller rolling area. This is with their discounted Kickstarter prices, so expect them to be higher when they go live on their store.
Elderwood Academy still carries their Spellbooks, which I still have yet to invest in. While these are small books with foam inserts for your needs, they can be used as a dice tray and, thanks to the nature of the motif, can open to allow the metal plate to be easily visible and written on. These start at $105, but will not provide a dice tower solution; that would cost an additional $95 (at least), and require you to remove the foam (or pay $60 for the tower-compatible dice tray). In any case, a purchase from Elderwood to cover the same bases would require an investment of $260; just over double the Complete DM Solution and about half-again of the Nomad’s Armory.
There’s also Dog Might Games, another competitor that I have been checking out (but couldn’t swing the finances for). Their “Traveller” dice tower (up for pre-order) offers storage for 20 dice and a small tray attached to a tower for the starting price of $60. Again, this lacks GM screen and other storage, so the best competitor is actually the Game Master System, something I’ve been gawking at for over a year now. It is still on pre-order, starts at $169, and provides a GM screen, plexiglass panels for inserts/writing, and a dice tray, but still lacks specific storage for writing implements or a dice tower. Since you’ll still need a tower, you’ll be looking at higher than that $169 price point…as well as about a year-long wait for a competitor to the Complete DM Solution.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak of arguably the biggest name on the list: Wyrmwood Academy (another shop I should find the means to buy from to compare). Picking up a collapsible dice tower from Wymwood will set you back $25, while getting a “personal” dice tray will cost an additional $65. If you go further in with a dice vault (holds 7 dice), they begin at $28. After spending a grand total of $108 (a bit less than the Complete DM Solution), you will have a tower, personal tray, and a way to store one set of dice, but still be lacking in storing writing implements, having a GM-screen at your disposal, and each of these will be their own stand-along components.
There you have it: prices vs the competitors. You can decide where you stand with trying to argue pricing being a good or bad point after that, as everyone’s finances and needs are different.
After many dice rolls, a great fall, and some writing, I’m going to have to keep the Complete DM Solution at my average 3 buns. One could argue either lower or higher, but I stand by the mid-line rating with this pre-Kickstarter version.
The Complete DM Solution is a nice all-in-one toolkit: it has a stable and versatile dice tower, durable dice tray with art options, and can take a few hits. Sadly, it has some current design concerns that make it difficult to readily suggest, but the Kickstarter updates alleviate a few of these to ensure it stays in the running!
If you are a GM that doesn’t mind one extra item in their kit that covers a four-part basic toolkit (dice tray, dice tower, GM screen, dice/pencil storage), or a player that only needs a tower, tray, and some minor extras, then this is absolutely for you. It’s lovely to look at and a great addition for a game at home!
If you are a GM on the go (like me) and need to make every inch of gear space matter, then you may want to consider another solution depending on your current kit. With an odd sizing (especially with the feet) and debatable versatility as a GM screen (due to balance), it doesn’t quite fulfill all of my needs when I’m on the go, but having four major components in one box is rather nice.
The Complete DM Solution is designed and made by Hrothgar’s Hoard, and has an upcoming Kickstarter beginning July 30th (link coming soon!). Domestic wood versions of the kit begin at $89 ($39 for dice chests) before add-ons and modifications (including 3D sculpts!), with exotic woods starting at $179 ($54 for dice chests). You can learn more about the shop on their Facebook page, and can find products on their Etsy page.