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!
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).
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…)