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Calling All Readers–What Non-Gaming Items are Great Gifts for GMs?

Posted By Patrick Benson On December 1, 2011 @ 1:00 am In Tools for GMs | 11 Comments

The holiday season is upon us, and that means gifts will be exchanged soon amongst friends and loved ones. This year I wanted to share with you two gift ideas that I think are awesome items to have as a GM, but that are not actually gaming related. One is relatively cheap, and the other is fairly expensive, but I have found both of them to be wonderful tools as a GM.

Yet the really good part of this article is sure to be the comments, because I want you to suggest non-gaming items that make great gifts for GMs. Big, small, frugal, expensive – as long as it makes a GM happy tell me about it! For now, let’s proceed with gift idea #1.

Dizzy Doug’s DIY “On Air” Light

I made one of these for my home office and it rocks!

“New house rule: When the light is on the Monty Python jokes cease!”

My wife and kids know that if this light is on that I am working on either a professional or a personal project. This makes my prep time more effective, because I have experienced less interruptions. I also discovered that it is a great way to keep outsiders from interrupting a game while it is in session too. In particular the under the age of nine footie pajama wearing outsiders in my home (they get to join us during a special half hour “kids break”).

Dizzy Doug explains how you can make one of these lights for less than $20. I added an external power supply to mine for about $5, so that low batteries would not be an issue for me.

I am so happy with this DIY project that I am making a second light that is green and will shine the words “Game on!” to everyone at the table. I hope that by adding such an obvious visual reminder that my game sessions will be more focused and run a bit faster. I must give credit to our own DNAphil for this idea.

I tend to be very appreciative of homemade gifts. Some of my fondest gifts were ones that someone crafted by hand, so I know that if I was a GM and someone made one of these for me that I would be sincerely grateful. Something about it just says “We respect the work that you do.” A group of players could do worse in joining forces to give the GM a gift (hint to players: your GMs do not want the “extended” version of your orphan loner’s back story).

LiveScribe Smartpen

I am a note taking fiend and whether at work, prepping for a game, or at the game table I always have a pen and paper handy. The problem is that pen and paper notes are difficult to search, and sometimes confusing. Exactly what was I thinking when I wrote down “thunder, pie, & submarine”?

Recently I bought a smartpen from LiveScribe, and those days are now behind me. With this pen and the special paper notebooks I can record the audio of my game session (get permission first of course) and my notes will be in sync with the recording. I can then tap on that confusing note and hear a player say:

“I have a plan. We’re going to need Zak’s boots of thunder to deliver a special pie to Baron Ook’s submarine.”

Granted, I still have no idea what any of that means but at least I now know why I wrote it down in the first place.

The pen also comes with a free subscription to Evernote Premium (a $45 value, and not a bad non-gaming gift for GMs too might I add). After setting up some “shortcuts” in the LiveScribe desktop software I can write a shortcut’s name on the page and select notes to be sent to a pre-determined Evernote notebook with tags.

Just create a notebook for your campaign in Evernote and you can now have all of your notes in digital format accessible from any web browser. Evernote will also run OCR software against your handwritten notes so that you can search them for text. How cool is that? I was already an avid Evernote user (it is why I bought this pen to begin with), so this Evernote integration functionality is my favorite feature of the smartpen device.

It is not cheap though. I bought the cheapest 2GB Echo model smartpen ($100), four notebooks ($18), extra ink cartridges ($5), and a portfolio case ($25) for about $150. At that those prices the players in a group could all contribute reasonable amounts to get their GM one of the pens and some notebooks.

What are your gift ideas?

Sure, you can always give a GM the gift of free GMing advice by providing a link to Gnome Stew, or maybe pop down a few bucks for these amazing books that we gnomes just happened to write, but what non-gaming items do you think make great gift ideas for GMs? Leave a comment below and share your gift giving wisdom with the rest of us.

(Thunder, pie, and submarine? *sigh* Looks like another TPK is on the horizon…)

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Calling All Readers–What Non-Gaming Items are Great Gifts for GMs?"

#1 Comment By Snargash Moonclaw On December 1, 2011 @ 3:34 am

I’d heard of smartpens but didn’t know enough (hell, anything!) about them to see the point. I now seriously want one. Bummed that Livescribe doesn’t support Linux – will have to check if any competitors do.

As for gifts – pretty much anything from ThinkGeek.com. It being late, I’ll throw some more specific suggestions tomorrow

#2 Comment By Razjah On December 1, 2011 @ 7:18 am

I have always found books to be appreciated. Not gaming books, mind you. But if the players know that you love Lovecraft a collection of his works would be a nice gift and may generate campaigns in the future so the group keep gaming.

A small bookshelf can be found in stores for $20-$50. If the group games in the same place, getting a bookshelf for the GM to use is pretty nice.

If the group is loaded: anything from http://www.geekchiq.com would be appreciated. I know the rules are non-gaming, but a coffee table or dining room table that transforms into some of the best game tables available are a cool gift. However, these are insanely expensive. Just cool.

A projector- works for movies, projects, and other things (video games!) and can be used to make battle maps and campaign visuals.

Awesome Chair. A really nice chair for the GM can be used in the living room, den, office, wherever. Then when it is game time your GM can be nice and comfortable as he or she spins plots of perilous adventures for you and your stalwart companions.

#3 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On December 1, 2011 @ 7:34 am

GMs do a lot of talking. A cup warmer (for coffee and hot drinks) or a chilled mug certainly helps the GM whose drinks get tepid before she gets a chance to finish drinking them. I do a lot of writing, so these things come in handy outside of a gaming session.

If you tend to order out during a session, get a gift card to one of the usual joints (chances are if you always order from there, the GM likes the place).

If you know your GM is reading a particular series, check Amazon or other lists for similar books. You might just hook her into another series.

I’d also suggest movie gift cards or even a movie rental gift subscription.

I go to the PA RenFaire every year, so I’d definitely appreciate a ticket or two as a gift.

#4 Comment By Roxysteve On December 1, 2011 @ 8:00 am

Maybe if they all showed up on time for once?

Nah, my gamers are usually pretty good about that (though last week’s Space 1889:Red Sands game was the Fiasco that proves the rule).

I play all my games at remote venues now so my most important ungame accessory is a wheelie bag to move my stuff around in.

Seriously, what you give someone who has everything is a box to keep it all in.

#5 Comment By black campbell On December 1, 2011 @ 8:35 am

Cattle prod, for those intransigent players that won’t take a hint…

If they use an iPad or similar device for gaming, an iTunes or similar gift card to buy apps is a good idea.

Toys and other props for game are a good idea.

#6 Comment By Don Mappin On December 1, 2011 @ 10:49 am

Starship models for our GM’s Star Trek game.

http://www.gnomestew.com/crock-pot/building-the-endurance

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the Endurance didn’t get destroyed in the past year, so I’ve got to come up with a new idea for this year!

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On December 1, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

Great ideas across the board!

@Snargash Moonclaw – I have noticed Linux support for more and more products is disappearing. It irks me as I use everything. With my Linux Mint box I have to use Nevernote (http://nevernote.sourceforge.net/) instead of Evernote (although the Evernote web interface rocks). I haven’t even tried running the LiveScribe software using WINE yet.

@Razjah – You can never go wrong with a good book as a gift!

@Walt Ciechanowski – My cup warmer in my home office is an essential piece of equipment, and I agree that it is a great gift (my wife gave me mine last year as one of my Christmas gifts).

@Roxysteve – I try to keep all of my gaming stuff to a minimum nowadays, but I agree that a great bag is always welcomed. I have been thinking of getting one with a built in solar panel or PEG (personal electric generator) for keeping my phone and Kindle charged to the max whenever possible.

@black campbell – My wife would hate me getting more toys or props, but who is she to ruin my gamer gifts!!! :)

@Don Mappin – People laughed at me when I said that I wanted toy Star Trek: TOS phaser, communicators, and tricorders that were good enough to use as props. Then they realized that I was serious and could not understand why. I explained that:

1) I’m preparing to run a Star Trek RPG campaign.
2) BECAUSE THEY ARE AWESOME!!!

Non-geeks! They have so much to learn. ;)

#8 Comment By XonImmortal On December 2, 2011 @ 3:13 am

Considering my last five gaming groups, what I’d like is copious amounts of alcohol (for me) or a case of rohypnol (for the players).

Oddly enough, anyone who found me decent scans of the map blanks from AD&D’s World-Building Guide would probably level up to epic proportions faster than I could shut my office door. That, or the old Gamer’s Workshop hex tiles that make map-building so easy.

Ooh, or AutoRealm support. That would be nice. And a pony. That flies.

#9 Comment By BryanB On December 2, 2011 @ 9:34 am

A case of Excedrin! :)

#10 Comment By tman On December 2, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

@XonImmortal – I think I might have one of those World Building Guides sitting on a shelf in my office, essentially unopened. I’ll take a look this weekend and see. Too bad I’m not in your campaign, but maybe I could send it to you.

#11 Comment By XonImmortal On December 2, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

@tman – That would be wonderful! I use the same name on Yahoo.


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