20 D&D Essential Accessories for Players & DMs

2021 Has not been the greatest year for most people, myself included. And while I’m glad to see December leave and 2022 take the stage I have one more post for the year. Not the original post I planned for December due to scheduling, but a post I think you’ll still find useful. This time we’re looking at the 20 D&D Essential Accessories for DMs & Players. I’ve gone through compiling what I think are some of the most essential accessories to having a great time playing D&D from both sides of the DM screen and ranked them in order from least to most essential. First, let’s start with the Top 20 Essential D&D Accessories for DMs.

#20 Sundry Decks and Improvisers

We’re starting it off with some of the DM resources like critical hit/fail decks, NPC/Item decks, Story Forge cards and other little improvisers like hit location dice, weather dice, and Rory’s Story Cubes.I I own a few of these little decks and improvisers. In my experience they’re real novelties. Most DMs use them a few times after getting them and then they’re banished to the bottom of the DM supplies. Especially the critical hit/fail decks as they don’t translate across editions and systems well. To make these useful as a DM you really need to go out of your way to include their use. Fun, but limited in usefulness.

#19 Combat Tiers & Flight Stands

You run D&D long enough and things start flying. Often I talk about how important it is to include the Z-axis in your game as a DM, especially to add (pun intended) a new dimension to combat encounters. And if you’re playing on a grid with miniatures, this is the best way to illustrate elevation. They’re way better than stacking d6 under a miniature. But, they’re only useful if you run a grid-based game in meatspace. So, if you’re running online or run primarily theater of the mind, they’re not that useful.

#18 Spell Templates

It was 2008, fourth edition was just out and I had locked in a new gaming group to take the dive into the latest edition of D&D after a long hiatus from RPGs. For those of you unfamiliar with fourth edition, it is primarily a grid-based combat game, there’s no getting around it. Moreover even martial player characters have access to are of effect abilities. So, being able to quickly see where AoE abilities and spells affected the map was very important to the game running smoothly. My friend worked in a repair shop and took some wire coathangers and turned them into burst and blast templates with perfect angles. Absolute gamechanger. Today, you can buy spell templates with ease and they’re still great for visualizing how spells impact gridded combat.

#17 Other RPG Rulebooks

Regardless of your system of choice as a DM, GM, Keeper, or Storyteller, it’s always good to broaden your perspective on how other games approach RPGs. Whether it’s stealing fronts from Dungeon World, Icons from 13th Age, or degrees of succes/failure from Star Wars, immersing yourself in more of the hobby can help you create homebrew that will make your game the best possible. Who knows, you may even find you like another system better than what you’re playing now. RPG books are a great gift idea for your DM, just make sure it’s not something they already have!

#16 Mapping Supplies

Grid playing DMs are always on the lookout for ways to improve their table. Chessex Battle Mats, Paizo Flip-Mats, Grid Paper, Modular Tiles/Walls, or even Ultimate Dungeon Terrain (UDT) for those between the grid and theater of the mind, there are a lot of options for displaying combat at the table. Even better is that some of these can be used together. Sketching out battle maps on grid paper during prep, then using a flip-mat with some dungeon tiles on top and modular walls can all help to create a better table experience. Evem theater of the mind DMs can benefit from tools like UDT or index cards for FATE’s scene aspects.

#15 Miniatures

Yeah, I think miniatures are a more essential accessory for DMs than a battle mat. Miniatures represent monsters and player characters and are useful even without a grid under their feet. As a DM, I can still show spatial relations, illustrate marching or initiative order, and use things like condition tokens to visually note what’s going on in the game world. Plus, it’s just nice to have the miniature in front of my players so I can easily remember who’s playing which character. The type of miniatures is based on how you use them. While 3d miniatures are great, they’re a pain to store and travel. Flat miniatures in stands aren’t as nice to look at, but they’re way easier for DMs on the road.

I don’t have the space to DM at my home so I’m always a travel DM. I carry a box of “PC” 3d miniatures and a box of flat monster miniatures. Best of both worlds and it’s easy to tell from every angle if a creature is a PC or a monster. I do want to give a special mention to those hard-to-find miniatures. As a DM, it’s helpful to add some villagers, NPCs, and decor to your miniature collection. Being able to plop down things like a campfire, stack of crates, or hostage is really nice, even if you’re not doing gridded combat.

#14 Concentration, Condition, and Inspiration Tracking Aides

We have a ton to manage behind the screen to ensure our games are fun and run smoothly. I think after the first month or two after fifth edition’s release I completely forgot about the inspiration mechanic. I have the same issue with PF2’s hero points. Which is not a problem I remember having with 4e’s action points and I don’t have with Savage World’s bennies. Part of that is because the game tells you to use a physical token to represent bennies that GMs and players will pass back and forth.

So I think an essential D&D accessory for any DM is having cards or tokens to track concentration, conditions, and inspiration. For me personally, condition cards were a gamechanger. No, “wait what’s restrained again?” When a PC gets restrained by a roper I just put the card down in front of them to remind them to save at the end of their turn. The card also explains what the condition does so no need to crack open the PHB. Honestly, the fact Conditions are listed on the cover interior of most RPG core books is an egregious oversight in my eyes. But, whenever the player saves the condition, drops concentration, or uses their inspiration, they just hand back the token/card.

#13 Table Topper

Most in-person D&D games happen at a kitchen or dining room table. Usually that’s also the nicest table in the host’s home. Assuming you’re the DM hosting the game at your home, the people who live with you will be happier if you do what you can to protect their nice furniture. The D&D players I know can be rough on furniture. A table topper can help protect that nice kitchen or dining room table against dents, scratches, and spills. It may be more of life/marital essential than a DM essential, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Of course if you primarily run games online, you may find something similar useful for your computer desk or wherever you play.

#12 Quick & Easy Board/Card Game

Every group has the one player that’s always running late. One of my favorite DM essential accessories is a simple board or card game. I don’t want people to start watching TV, YouTube, or sticking their heads in their phones. It just takes longer to herd the cats and get them into D&D once the last player shows up. Games like BANG! dice, Fluxx, Munchkin, and Zombie Dice are compact, quick to setup/putaway, and sre easy to put down in the middle of a game. It’s a DM must for me and one of these games is always in my game bag. Anything I can use to keep players sitting at the table and ready to play D&D.

#11 Dungeon Master Timer

A big part of being a successful Dungeon Master is controlling the pace and tension of your game. Timers can help you ratchet up the tension in dramatic, stressful moments. Generally, players can take as much time as they need to discuss, make a decision, and choose a course of action. A timer creates tension by forcing your players to speed up their discussions, decisions, and actions into a few minutes or even seconds. Chess clocks, phone timers, and egg timers work well, but the best dramatic effect is the iconic hourglass. Watching time literally pass as sands through the hourglass makes the tension extra visceral. It’s a helpful accessory for any Dungeon Master.

#10 Initiative Trackers

Tracking initiative is one of my least favorite parts of running D&D. I think partially because there are a lot of other games that I feel handle who goes when better than D&D’s individual initiative system as written. And for me personally, it’s the first thing I throw at the players to keep track of on their side of the screen. Still, there are circumstance where you don’t want players to know or be in charge of the initiative. Luckliy, there are a lot of initiative tracking solutions out there. From initiative tents you put on top of your DM screen to magnetic dry erase boards. Any solution for initiative that is faster than going one by one around the table to record scores and then shuffling them into the right order makes the game faster, and that’s a win in my book.

#9 Geomorph Playing Cards

I’m a sucker for utilitarian items that have more than one use, they make things easier and they save space. One of my most recent discoveries as a GM, these cards are awesome. First, it’s a standard deck of playing cards which is great. First, because it fills the spot of #12 on my list by knowing a few fast and easy card games. Second, Savage Worlds uses a deck of playing cards for initiative. Third, each card is a dungeon geomorph so if I need to come up with some dungeon inspiration quick I can just draw a hand of cards and lay them out. And if that wasn’t enough, each card also provides random die results for d20, d6, and d100 rolls. Obviously it’s not perfect in that aspect, if you need a sneaky die result without alerting your players, it’s nice to have on hand.

#8 Dice & Dice Accessories

Most RPG DMs and players love buying and collecting new dice. I know friends who can’t visit a Friendly Local Game Store and NOT buy dice, partially because they love dice and also because they want to support their FLGS. That said, I personally am not a dice collector. I think I’ve bought one set of dice in the past… five years? Still, even I believe there is time and reason for owning extra dice. For instance, many DMs have separate sets of DM dice and player dice. You don’t use your player dice when you DM and vice versa. I also agree with most DMs that it’s worthwhile to have some house “ugly dice.” These are the dice for the player who inevitably forgets their dice. I also keep some cheap extra pencils and scratch paper for players too. They’re useful for players who forget, but it also makes them want to bring and use their better quality D&D supplies.

As a travel DM I’m hardly immune to forgetting my dice, or I used to be. Now I have a separate container of Desk or DM Prep dice so I never need to pull the dice out of my game bag at home. I even have a set I keep in my desk at work in case I want to work on some D&D stuff during my lunch break. I highly recommend this approach if your a DM that needs to travel with their dice or is just prone to misplacing your dice.

Another dice related essential D&D accessory for DMs is a dice tray or dice tower. For Christmas one year I bought a dice tower for one of my players because he just had a hard time keeping dice on the table when he rolled. Gave hime a dice tower, which he loved, and the problem solved itself. DM real estate comes at a premium so it’s nice to have an enclosed area to corral your dice and things like a dice tower make it much easier when you need to roll a high volume of attack, save, or damage dice.

Dice trays and dice towers come in all shapes, materials, and construction. If you’re a traveling DM you’ll definitely want something that packs flat like a magnetic dice tower or dice tray with snaps to lay flat. If you’re a DM that hosts your games in person you can have a larger and more elaborate setup like the Box of Doom from Dimension 20.

#7 Cash & Gift Cards

Wait, what? Look, cash and gift cards are just a useful thing to keep on hand. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been in a game session and people decide to order food unplanned and then want to divvy up the cost or need to tip the delivery driver. Plus, sometimes a person cancels at the last minute or we finish early and decide to head over to our FLGS, the movies, or something like GameStop. Whether it’s pitching in for gas or food, or just an unexpected purchase at a store it’s a good idea to some walking around money.

Also, if your a DM it means someone is likely to try and buy you an RPG-themed gift at some point. The problem is your players and especially someone outside the hobby probably has no idea what you actually want or need as a DM. Cash and gift cards are your best friend. It may feel a little weird as an adult to make a birthday or Christmas wishlist of hobby junk, but for the people in your life who don’t believe cash is a valid gift (really it is, unlike gift cards I’ve had for a decade), they can be assured they’re getting your something you will actually enjoy. It can be helpful to tell them what you’ll use the cash/gift card purchasing, like subscription services. Your DM giftee may want to update their subscription on D&D Beyond, Hero Lab, something like Syrinscape for music and SFX, or their preferred Virtual Tabletop service. Cash and gift cards really are essential for any Dungeon Master.

#6 Quality Audio

There are few things more distracting and frustrating than poor audio. And, audio is a great way to enhance your D&D game. Thus, quality audio is an essential accessory for Dungeon Masters. Start by investing in a quality bluetooth speaker. I originally picked up a bluetooth speaker for work and it’s transitioned into use at the gaming table. Bluetooth makes it easy to connect to a laptop, tablet, or phone and play background mood music and sound effects for your game. Though it takes some extra management effort during the game and I don’t always use it, adding in some quality audio can raise your DM presentation up a full letter grade.

But, what if you mainly run games online? A bluetooth speaker isn’t going to be that helpful. However, playing online means it’s even more important to have crisp audio. That means investing in a good USB microphone or a quality headset with microphone. The preference is really up to you. Often a standalone microphone will provide better quality audio, but it also takes up space wherever you play. Meanwhile a good headset provides a microphone that won’t pick up too much background noise and can help to isolate background noise on your end so it’s easier to stay focused on what your players are saying. I personally have a nice, wireless headset with active noise canceling that does a fantastic job of keeping my head in the game and reducing the amount of background noise for my players.

#5 Markers, Whiteboards, and Index Cards

I mean, these are about as obvious an essential D&D accessory for Dungeon Masters as it gets. Having a fistful of quality markers ensures you’re always ready to draw a map, jot down initiative, and tally monster HP. There’s a lot of love for index cards in the D&D community, due in no small part to SlyFlourish’s Mike Shea. I’ve used them, even now in the current game I’m running, but they’re not a favorite tool for me personally. I much prefer a dry-erase whiteboard for most of the same functions. There is however a strange middle ground, dry erase cards. I like these a lot for things like scene aspects in FATE, and I never have to worry about running out of index cards, just erase and reuse.

For me a handheld whiteboard is indispensable. In addition to combat tracking uses, I also use the whiteboard to complement theater of the mind. If there’s a particularly strange room or esoteric object my players are having trouble visualizing I can sketch it out and show them, which really helps ensure we’re all operating on the same understanding.

#4 A Dungeon Master Reference Library

You’ll notice there is a 13-spot difference between a DM’s reference library and other RPG core books. While I do think it’s essential to broaden your perspective as a DM through other RPGs, the fact is the most important game is the one you’re running right now. A DM needs a bookshelf or harddrive with reference material to help you plan, prep, and play better now. Of course the fifth edition D&D core books should all be included: the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual, and Player’s Handbook.

You may also want to pick up some of the official supplements for 5e, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, Tasha’s, Fizban’s, etc. If you’re looking to add something to that DM wishlist mentioned above, supplemental books are a good idea. It’s much easier for your players to buy a supplemental book together for you, which they’ll all have access to during character creation rather than buying it alone.

Other parts of the DM reference library include third-party monster books. Ideally, you would like for these to be 5e-compatiable or compatible with whatever RPG you’re running. However, don’t dismiss a great book full of new and strange monsters to confound your players just because it’s not compatible. Most monster concepts can be translated into your game of choice with a little elbow grease and comparative analysis to similar creatures within the ruleset. Being able to add custom monsters your players have never seen, goes a long way.

Avoid the big, hardbound published adventures. They’re a big investment, they’re a pain to keep on the rails and still be fun, and you can only run them once per group. For my money, I fill my reference library with adventure anthologies (Candlekeep, Dungeon Delve, Salt Marsh, Yawning Portal, etc.). For the same cost of a big adventure path I can get half a dozen or more smaller, varied adventures that are much easier to drop into a custom campaign. In the same vein, I also keep some of the best one-page dungeons, Adventurers League modules, and one-shot adventures in my library. Everything in my library is focused on making my next session great. When the PCs are traveling to the coast in the next session I want to be able to flip through some quick encounter and adventure ideas that I can use to beef up that next session.

Other books to look for are DM helper books. For new DMs a book like, “The Monsters Know What They’re Doing,” can help you start playing your monsters smart and tactfully. If you have players who routinely curbstomp your balanced combat encounters, it can be a real help. For more experienced DMs, DM helpers are the books that help you get outside the box, essential accessories that focus on improving your Dungeon Master craft. For me it can be roll tables like the Dungeon Dozen and the Dungeon Alphabet. Other books slot into place as supplemental Dungeon Master’s Guides. Mike Shea’s Lazy Dungeon Master and Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master for instance. And useful tomes like X-treme Dungeon Mastery. Like many DMs, my reference library is also filled with hundreds of pages of my own handcrafted DM-advice learned over the years and one-off roll tables and useful resources gleaned across the internet.

#3 DM Binder & Contents

The DM reference libary is prep toolbox, it’s for use between sessions when you’re prepping the next session, adventure, or campaign. The DM Binder is a Dungeon Master’s duct tape, chicken wire, and super glue. It’s your D&D everyday carry essential accessory. Each DM’s binder is a little different. It’s the distilled reference of your DM library into the most useful parts that come up most often. And, it includes the most important notes about your ongoing campaign and the setting. The DM Binder is also where you typically keep the outline for the current adventure and your session notes.

Going into more detail on this essential D&D accessory is difficult, because it should be a personal reflection of every DM. It’s inclusion should follow WebDM’s sage advice, “prepare anything you’re not comfortable improvising.” If you suck at improvising names, include a list of names. Prep some ready-to-go combat encounters if you struggle with combats on the fly. If you have players that like to jump the plothook and go off the rails, maybe include a couple of one-page adventures you can throw down in front of them. The DM Binder is about creating your own personal DM multi-tool so you can make small fixes to keep the game running.

#2 Custom DM Screen or Quick Reference

I don’t think any DM would accuse D&D 5e of creating the perfect DM screen. In fact, there are many official variations of the DM screen produced by Wizard of the Coast, including a complete overhaul to the original, general DM screen. And, not every DM believes in playing with a DM screen. I often don’t. And when you’re playing online, the DM doesn’t need a screen. But, every DM does have a necessity for a quick reference. This information is what I want on a custom DM screen or at least in front of me, next to my notes in sheet protectors. Your DM quick reference is the third distillation of critical reference material from your DM library and your DM binder. For me it includes things like definitions for 5e’s conditions, how to improvise DCs and damage. It includes how grappling, cover, and stealth works, plus what actions a creature can take on its turn. It also includes the prices for common goods and services.

A good quick reference should cover the situations and questions that come up most commonly at the table. That way you’re not flipping through your DM binder or stopping the game to crack an official rulebook. You can get the one I’ve created on DriveThruRPG, it’s PWYW. It’s divided into facing pages per D&D tier so when you move from combat to exploration, you only need to flip one page to find all the related reference material you need.

#1 Notetaking and Recording Tools

That’s right, at the number one spot we have notetaking and recording tools. Finding a notetaking solution that works for you as a DM makes everything else so much easier. And that doesn’t necessarily mean really expensive tools either. I have nice, hard- and leatherbound journals I barely use. I feel bad making a bunch of messy notes in them and crossing stuff out. Truthfully I use a pretty cheap gel pen model I like and a standard memo pad. Why? because it feels good to write, doesn’t take up much space, and I’m not worried about screwing up a cheap memo pad. Plus, when I’m done with the notes I can rip them out and toss them.

I transfer the handwritten notes I need to keep to my PC and keep them organized in tabs and autosaved using Notepad++. Again, it’s a super simple plain text program with fewer distractions than most notetaking or word processing applications. I use Notepad++ and similar programs when writing for work and fun. I also included recording tools, because taking notes during a session is hard. There’s a lot to focus on at the table and it’s easy to miss or forget something a player said during the session. Having a nice, omnidirectional microphone that you can set on the game table and record your sessions is great for the DM’s that struggle with notetaking. Instead you can start the session audio playback while you prep for the next session. That way you can make sure you don’t miss anything in your prep.

Top 20 D&D Essential Accessories for Players Coming Soon

Well, that’s it for now. I’m really sprinting down to the line and it’s a been slapdash. I’ll be back to clean it up! Thank you for your patience. There’s actually a whole second part to this blog with the 20 player essential accessories. December has been very difficult, from the busiest month of the year at work, a family medical emergency, and myself feeling under the weather (unrelated to the medical emergency and not COVID). Still, I wanted to make sure this could get up before the turn of the year if at all possible. I plan to update this post in the coming week with the player accessories, so make sure to check back!