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Accessory Madness

Posted By Phil Vecchione On February 18, 2009 @ 4:00 am In Gaming Trends | 16 Comments

Recently, I started a Witchcraft campaign and while setting up for it, I was struck with a sudden panic.  Where were all my accessories I needed in order to run this game?  I had the rulebook, a few supplements in PDF, and some dice.  But somehow I felt that I did not have enough stuff to run my game.

So what kind of stuff am I talking about?  Well in my recently completed Iron Heroes I campaign, I had:

  • Hardcover Core Book
  • PDF supplements
  • Dice
  • Dice Rolling tray
  • Glass beads for Tokens
  • Chessex Battlemat
  • Fiery Dragon counters
  • Some 3D terrain
  • Fiery Dragon Iron Heroes Battlebox (with all sorts of cards and stuff)

In the D&D 4e game that I play in, I have:

  • Hardcover Rulebook
  • Dice
  • Dice rolling tray (Dwarven Sweatshoppe)
  • Character sheet
  • Power cards
  • Some glass tokens to represent my Healing Surges and Action Points
  • A painted miniature

Plus the GM has most of that stuff plus:

So when I started to put together my Witchcraft campaign,  realized that all I had was the rule book and some dice.  And suddenly I very naked.  Where are the accessories for this game?

So I got to thinking about accessories.  Are they necessary?  Are they helpful?  Are they fun?  I made up a list of Pro’s and cons for accessories, and I present them to you now.

Pro’s

  • They can provide help with the rules: No doubt that my 4e power cards, and the combat cards from the Iron Heroes Battle Box were very helpful at keeping track of various rules, and kept me from looking up rules in the book all the time.
  • They increase interest: Before I bought my Fiery Dragon counters set, I use to represent monsters in my game with some dice.  But after I started using the counters, there was an different feel to our battles.  Now you could actually see what each creature was, and their correct size.  Add into that some of the 3D terrain, and suddenly the table is far more interesting.
  • They create a tactile quality to the game: Most of the play in an RPG is in your mind.  While in a board game, you have cool pieces, cards, etc.  There is something to be said for being able to slap down your White Raven Onslaught onto the table, at the climax of the battle.  A similar feeling is generated when moving your fully painted miniature 5 squares down the battlemat.

Con’s

  • Accessories cost money: Accessories are nice, but they add an additional cost to the game.  Each miniature you buy, every counter set purchased, each piece of 3d terrain, is often money coming out of your pocket.  The cost conscious GM may not want to plunk down more money for a few bells and whistles.
  • They are a distraction: with so many things lying around the table, the distraction factor rises.   Surely your players are listening to you, but they are also picking through your latest batch of mini’s oohing and ahhing at this one and that one.
  • They stifle imagination: What sets an RPG apart from boardgames, is that the majority of the game play occurs in the players minds, through the descriptive narrative of the GM.  If the table has color glossy map tiles, and to-scale monsters, how much of the game is occurring in players imaginations?  What separates a fully tricked out D&D battle from something like Tannhauser?

So, where do you fall when it comes to accessories for your games?  Are you a strict pen and dice guy, or do you have bins of Mini’s and stacks of map tiles in your game room?  Do you find it helping your game?  Or getting in the way?

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.




16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "Accessory Madness"

#1 Comment By Lunatyk On February 18, 2009 @ 6:56 am

I just go on with the Core Book, a notebook to write and draw things in and dice… next session I’ll add some counters so that people can keep track of their various pools (I’m lazy, I don’t want to do it myself)…

#2 Comment By questing gm On February 18, 2009 @ 7:10 am

I dislike having too many accesories on my table because of the cost and that it kills the imagination. So I only go for what is neccesarry for my D&D session.

Books, char sheets, dices, pencils & markers, battlemats and a poor number of minis to represent everything. With 4E coming along, I would probably have to begrudgingly add power cards to the list.

#3 Comment By Tommi On February 18, 2009 @ 7:23 am

Dice are nice, but optional. Character sheets are even more optional and at least as useful as dice. A game book or tokens are useful for some games, but not all. Other stuff is explicitly voluntary.

My approach to accessories: Not worth the trouble and table space they take, in general. GM screens are worse than useless.

#4 Comment By Ameron On February 18, 2009 @ 7:25 am

My gaming group pretty much plays D&D exclusively. That limits the pool of accessories we have to draw from, but who are we kidding it’s still a very big pool. We’ve found that our group of 6 tends to divide up the accessories and in most cases we only buy 1 or maybe 2 copies of non-core books. Once we learned the Character Generator available through D&D Insider offered the powers and feats available in the accessories we stopped buying extra books all together and just got a subscription to DDI. Experience has taught us that players generally don’t NEED the extras. If the DM wants to fork out for them, that’s his prerogative. As for dice… that’s a whole other story.

#5 Comment By Rafe On February 18, 2009 @ 7:46 am

This is a really timely article, Phil! I’m about to start a Burning Wheel game for a few friends. We’ve all become lackluster on d20 so this move is a welcome one. Aside from the system and mechanics, the big difference, for GM and players both, is the lack of accessories, props, extras, etc. You have your character sheets, D6s and that’s it. I, too, am feeling a tad nekkid.

One thing I will be adding is the “GM screen” reference sheets and taping/sticking it to my 4e DM Screen. Also, I plan to create cards for the actions in Duel of Wits and Fight! to help us all out in scripted combat. So accessories will be minimal for BW.

That said, in the 4e game I play, we go all out: power cards (some laminated, some in card sleeves), glass beads for action points, thin foam squares for spells/abilities and marking, battlemat, miniatures, etc.

#6 Comment By Lunatyk On February 18, 2009 @ 7:56 am

Oh, I forgot to mention I write down all the rules I’ll need to run a game and then print them out so I don’t need to rummage through the books more than it’s needed…

#7 Comment By dmmagic On February 18, 2009 @ 8:38 am

I always played with nothing but the core rulebooks, dice, and a notebook, but recently I purchased some tile sets and glass markers to represent monsters, and I encouraged the players to acquire and use miniatures of some sort. The feedback was extremely positive, and adding visual elements really helped my players understand what was going on and their role in combat. I can picture everything in my head, but even if I gave long descriptions, not everything would stick for the players. Having something they can continually reference visually made all the difference.

I think the accessories makes the difference for casual players. I’m fine with nothing but a notebook and maybe grid paper, but if my friend’s girlfriend joins in who has never played D&D, being able to see what’s going on really helps. That’s one of the reasons I continue to purchase and use the tile sets rather than a blank battle grid; the art captures the imagination and helps visualize the 3D room much better than a grid + markers.

#8 Comment By DeadGod On February 18, 2009 @ 8:41 am

I feel like accessories definitely define the style of play. I have a friend who find traditional RPGs boring. I talked to her about it a lot and the best I could get out of her was that she didn’t like “all the talking stuff.” She a heavy analytical-minded math major (and currently an accountant, to boot,) so I realized that it was just that her imagination wasn’t quite as dexterous as your average gamer. I sat her down to a game of 4ed and spared no accessory: minis, glass bead counters, 3D furniture and doors, power cards and rule summary sheets, and so on. She warmed right up to the game, even though we do plenty of that “talking stuff” in our sessions. I think, in her case, she needs all the tactile and visual elements to jump-start her imagination.

And speaking of a lack of dice and character sheets: The only thing you need to play a game of Dread is a Jenga tower. There is an example of a game accessory that perfectly supports the style of play the game wishes to exude.

#9 Comment By zencorners On February 18, 2009 @ 9:24 am

I’d think it’s GM preference. Personally, I’ve come to rely heavily ona battle mat & vis-a-vis markers. I am a bit of a maker/crafter at heart so tokens and cards (for any think my imagination desires) are another active part of all my games regardless of the genre.

#10 Comment By Karizma On February 18, 2009 @ 10:46 am

I *love* window shopping for awesome accessories (I’ve bookmarked that Dwarven Sweatshoppe). Gamescience dice, the Dwarven Sweatshoppe dice tray, the dice bags featured here on Gnome Stew a while back, chainmail dice bags, “Ultimate Gaming Table”s, etc.. But I know that it’s not the game, and I don’t need them. Cheap dice are random enough, a table has always been a decent surface for rolling, any ol’ table works, and a cloth bag will work for dice (or in my players’ cases, the case the dice came in).

The important thing with accessories is they have to fit, and/or be unobtrusive. If the system doesn’t call for movements and minis, why go out of your way to use them if it will just get in the way? However, some things like power cards in 4e or printed-out spell lists in Rolemaster make referencing easier, and streamlining the game.

However, props and accessories can REALLY set the tone. An excellent example, I feel, is Monopoly. Monopoly has paper money, but there’s a more recent edition that’s theme is “modern.” There is no paper money. There are credit cards. Each player has a credit card, and there’s a little calculator that adds or subtracts money. By simply changing the props from paper to cards, it immediately brings us to the “modern” world, and feels quite different from Daddy’s Monopoly.

My group uses core rules with a couple additional books (Monster book, and book on Magic) which I have as PDF on my laptop, dice, character sheets, a coffee table made out of stacked-’n-duct-taped pizza boxes (we’re college kids), and a warped dry-erase board.

#11 Comment By BryanB On February 18, 2009 @ 10:47 am

I think it depends on the system. With Star Wars Saga Edition, I like to use the tiles/mats and the minis for large fights that make descriptions harder to follow. For small fights, I’ll either describe it or sketch it out on a scratch paper. The situation varies.

For games like Spirit of the Century, a sketch of the zones is usually sufficient for large battles and descriptions always work for the smaller conflicts.

D&D has always been a game where we prefer to use minis, counters, dice, or tokens to at least show relative positions during a fight. All the angst about 4E “requiring” minis has amused me to no end, because every group I’ve ever been in has used minis, or some other representation of combatants, no matter what version of D&D we were playing (since 1981).

I think games that are more tactically oriented (D&D, Star Wars, Iron Heroes) require more accessories than games that are less so (White Wolf, SotC, GenreDivision).

#12 Comment By Tommi On February 18, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

Rafe;

Scripting sheets and an implement for writing on them such that it is easy to erase. Cards might do the trick, too, if players have enough of them to script with them and then reveal them one by one.

#13 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On February 18, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

Every playa know the only way to “Pimp Yo’ Game” is to accessorize, bee-yotch!

Minis. Terrain. Dice. Cards. Tokens/counters/markers. Coins. Tact-Tiles. Dry erase board and pens. Music. Dice tray (Dwarven Sweatshoppe: 7″x9″ octagon in rubbed lacy walnut with a pigskin bottom).

An’ thas befo you get yo Props to yo Playaz, dawg!

Props is the shizzle, yo: old maps on parchment, cryptic writings, a Cryptex or two, pictures of NPCs, and hats or other accessories for playing them, maps of the local area, etc.

#14 Comment By Jonathan Drain On February 18, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

Aiee, apostrophes used to make plurals! My internal English teacher is angry!

#15 Comment By John Arcadian On February 18, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

Great article Phil! I tend to fluctuate my use of accessories depending on the game that I’m playing at the time. I enjoy making things, so if I can whip out some decent 3-d terrain, then rock on. I’ll generally use minis if the game play benefits from, or requires, it. If the gameplay doesn’t require tactical preciseness then I’ll grab a big sheet of blank paper and a sharpie. I’ll draw out the rough outlines and let players go to town on describing their positions in that, either with or without markers. I’ve ditched the GM’s screen and generally keep a binder of notes or a laptop on a side table.

#16 Comment By Bercilac On February 20, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

In my old gaming group in Scotland we had, collectively:

THE BATTLEMAT (graph paper glued onto thick card, with lines drawn on to mark out 0.5″ squares)
The Dynamic Dungeon Creation Kit (a cardboard box, from Earl Grey tea, filled with strips of black card that fit onto our battlemat to make rooms)
The Dice Bag (a purple velvet Crown Royal bag full of the obvious)
The Tin (Cadbury’s “surprises” or “treats” or whatever they’re called, full of the pieces from a Risk set, a Diplomacy set, and the American Civil War set)
A few hardcover 3.0 D&D manuals
Several laptops with 3.5 D&D PDFs

I’ve now moved to Australia. My share in the booty was the dice bag, minus several dice that belonged to other people, or dice that were bought as communal and now needed dividing.

One of my sadest moments when leaving my friends was dividing up the dice collection!


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