#RPGaDay2015 14: Favorite RPG Accessory

RPG-a-day-2015The world’s greatest GM screen has been lauded at length on Held Action. I wound up upgrading to the landscape edition shortly before fading out of GMing games almost completely, so I never got the chance to enjoy it, but I loved its sturdiness and universality. The one drawback that screen has, which the landscape orientation helped mitigate, is that it’s so thick and sturdy than it can muffle your voice. At home, that’s probably fine, but in a convention setting, where I was doing most of my GMing, having your voice cut down in a noisy room is a killer.

Crystalline Counters

A game of TimeLine in progress.

TimeLine in progress.

If you’re a fan of Cheapass Games’ output, you already know the value of a gaming component toolkit: dice, pawns, colored tokens and whatever other game component-like materials might be called for. Plenty of other games call for or are aided by a supplemental supply of bits, as theoretically infinite supplies run out, or tokens go missing over time; plus they’re super handy if you’re the sort to prototype your own game designs.

And so we have 3 Sages’ crystalline counters. They might remind you of the colored glass beads you’ll find for sale in craft stores, but these guys have three distinct advantages: they are lighter than glass beads, and so easier to carry a large supply; they are more compact, and so take up less space; and they’re more visually interesting to look at, with an asymmetrical design that you can see in the picture of TimeLine in progress at the top of the post.

I’ve got a set of six colors or so, to match the standard six colors you find in most board games. They’re at the ready for whatever gaming purpose may arise, and I’m pretty sure they will be exchangeable for MeowMeowBeenz after the fall of western civilization.

Arkham Horror Add-ons from Litko Game Accessories

From the Litko Games Accessories online catalog.

Arkham Horror is a bit-tacular game to start with. Lots of cards, tokens, character sheets and more. But sometimes the form factor of those pieces get in the way of playing the game. Monster and gate tokens, for instance, lie flat. On a board that’s already graphically busy, it’s very easy to miss spotting a monster, elder sign marker or even a whole gate. This is something I’ve learned repeatedly in my play experiences with the game, particularly after the third hour begins.

Among the more craft-minded fans of the game, there have been a number of homebrew solutions to this issue, propping up monsters and gates in stands to make them pop out from the underlying board. Now, thanks to Litko Game Accessories, you don’t have to be crafty — or settle for bent paperclips — to enjoy a similar sort of convenience. Litko offers gate and monster stands in two different designs and colors, respectively, plus full-sized elder sign tokens.

They’re very nice looking, just going by the catalog shots. My first gut reaction was “WANT!” which is atypical for me. Q Workshop’s fancy-pants dice didn’t garner that response from me. Part of it is these stands would actually help play the game, making it easier to count how many monsters and gates are on the board. Not so much the tentacle gate stands, though. It looks like they obscure the gate modifier, dimensional symbol and the additional modifier icons introduced by The Lurker at the Threshold.

It’s a pricey upgrade, though. Just in the base game, without any expansions, there can be seven gates open at once and eleven monsters on the board, not withstanding when topping the terror track removes the monster limit. That’s at the extreme ends of the spectrum, in two and eight player games, respectively. Since Litko sells the gate markers in sets of six at $25 each and monster stands in sets of eight for $12. Just to cover one’s bases with the original game, without worrying about the expansion boards, where monsters can run free and wild without a limit on their numbers, would $74, for two sets of gate and monster stands each to have as many as might be required in the course of a game.

I can see myself putting out for monster stands one of these days, when I’ve got some mad money. The gate stands, though, even the wrought iron ones, which are pretty amazing, are more than a little out of my comfort zone for luxury accessories.

What Would You Like to Play Today?

It happens to anyone with a sufficiently large collection of anything; eventually, you develop blind spots. Some things go untouched on the shelf, while others get an extraordinary amount of use because they’re right to hand. Incredibly, you even forget you own some things. Aside from the embarrassing things it says about consumer culture and the push to accumulate piles of stuff, it means that for an industrious collector of games, there are potentially unappreciated — or unreviled — titles in their library. Or, if you’re the supplier for your group’s get-together, you need to know what games support a certain number of players, or fit a particular criteria. Smart people come up with solutions for problems like that, happily.

I'm not ashamed to admit I own Car Wars 5th Edition.

Dave Mansell, Wilikai of Boardgamegeek, wrote an Adobe Air application called WhatToPlay. The upshot of Adobe Air is it’ll run on most Mac, Linux and PC computers. The downside is you have to install the Air platform, along with Dave’s program. Fortunately, installation’s easy: go to the application’s home page and click the install image. Your browser handles the rest after administrative authorization.

Once installed, WhatToPlay asks for your Boardgamegeek user name. This brings up the other catch to use the program: you need a Boardgamegeek account and you have to use the website’s collection function to tag what games you own. Assuming you’ve got those, the application pulls the information it needs, displaying the games in your collection in a configurable list.

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A Screen for Every Game

Customizable GM screens have been around for a while, starting with the now defunct Citizen Games’ Masterscreen. The next one to come along that of which I’m aware was Studio 2 Publishing’s Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen, which also seems to have become unavailable. Fortunately, there remains Hammerdog Games‘ offering: The World’s Greatest Screen(TWGS for short), a beast of a customizable GM’s screen, with four sturdy vinyl-covered panels, similar in appearance and design to the old Masterscreen.

The big hook with a customizable screen is you can put together any charts you feel are necessary, rather than what the designers thought would be useful, like White Wolf’s persistent belief that the experience point cost to raise an ability is a question that requires an instantaneous answer during play. Last summer, I made up a set of inserts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Open Office, which worked beautifully. Graphic design challenged as I am, typing tabular data into tables in a word processing document is easily done.

I’ve used TWGS for four conventions now, including this just-past Carnage. When I next get to run a regular game, I’ll use it there too. It’s incredibly sturdy, strong enough to serve as a backboard to roll dice against. In fact, its sturdiness is also the basis of my single beef with the World’s Greatest Screen.

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