In my D&D etiquette post, I mentioned one of the best things you can do is to bring your game face. Part of that entails bringing all of your tools and necessities, beyond your character sheet and Player’s Handbook. The problem, of course, is that when everyone brings their gear, you can run out of table space in a hurry. Plus, with people constantly flipping through the book to double-check a spell’s saving throw, it can get rather chaotic.
Not to mention, if you ever browse the D&D sub-Reddits (/r/dndnext, /r/dnd, or /r/dnd5th), you’re familiar with the state of the first and second printings of the PHB. We have two copies with large sections of pages re-glued to the spine because the glue wasn’t meant to handle that kind of punishment.
And this problem isn’t just player-based, or even local-game based. Keeping your wereducks in a row can be challenging in the heat of battle, which is why there are several pro-tips for organizing your play and play space.
Recently, D&D officially partnered with Roll20.net, confirming what countless D&D players already knew: the fact that Roll20 is one of the best virtual tabletops currently online. It’s not made for local, in-person groups, but for digital, long-distance adventures, it can’t be topped. You can enter in your character sheet, move your minis around the map, roll your dice (complete with bonuses) and see your fellow players in a surprisingly clean UI. The video and audio elements can be a bit twitchy here and there, but overall, it’s a great experience. For DMs, you can add monsters, control the Fog of War and track initiative with simple mouse clicks. Don’t even mess around with anything other than this program.
Tracking initiative has been a pain ever since Gygax first told people to roll for it. Post-It notes with characters’ names and initiative; white boards; a piece of paper with check marks; I have seen or experienced so many ways to track. Everyone has their own “system,” all of which technically work, but can get harried depending on how many initiatives you’re tracking. Enter donjon. This is our local DM’s favorite program (and one favored by Reddit) because of its ease of adding monsters and characters, initiative, and tracking monster HP/AC, all on one screen. The DM can even add player characters’ HP and AC, depending on how saucy you’re feeling. Load it up on your tablet and go forth to destroy your players’ characters.
Spell casting: there’s an app for that
Other things that are a PITA? Tracking your spells. Nothing takes the heat out of the heat of battle like having someone say “I cast Heat Metal,” only to then spend two minutes flipping through the book to find the spell save. Writing on index cards is so 1980s and ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense. For Android users, 5th Edition Spellbook is a gift from Vecna. Not only does it have every spell and description, it allows you to make custom spell lists for each character and class. Oh hell yeah.
Or, go analog
If an app isn’t your thing, or if your DM has rules about technology at the table, D&D Spell Cards are another great option. Officially printed by Wizards of the Coast, the cards are heavy stock and nicely laminated, meaning they can be handled with sticky fingers, suffer a few spills and be thrown into a bag. They, too, have the spell descriptions and costs and can organized in whatever way makes sense to you.
Herding your character
Paper character sheets are the bread and butter of D&D and for good reason. They’re versatile, they have all your stats laid out for you, and you can erase to your heart’s content. Or, until you eventually wear a hole through the HP box. Or until you accidentally write your Proficiency Bonus in ink because you weren’t thinking. Or until the klutz sitting next to you spills their drink on it. Paper is fragile, is what I’m getting at, here.
For both iOS and Android, there’s a great app, called Fifth Edition Character Sheet, that allows you to track all the same things, digitally. The neat thing is that it automatically calculates all of your bonuses based on your race, class, levels and feats. The good news is it ensures accurate bonuses, every time; it even includes a digital dice roller, to make things even easier. The bad news about FECS is that, as far as I can tell, if you pick it up when your character is level 6, you cannot create a level 6 character — you have to create a level 1 character and then level it up to 6. That’s not a bad thing, but it is kind of a pain. They make up for it by allowing you to save several characters, so you can take your app to different campaigns. The only downside is that it is strictly a character sheet tracker, you’ll have to bounce between it and a spellbook app, spellbook cards, or the PHB for your spells and abilities.
For the rogue who has everything
If you have a set of polyhedral dice, chances are they are Chessex, and chances are they came with a nice little plastic box in which you can carry them. It’s small, it’s fairly durable and it does the job. But it’s also very bland and, frankly, cheap-looking … look, sometimes you just want to have cool shit for your game, OK? There’s no real reason to need a Hexchest, other than it looks amazingly cool. The lids are magnetic, making sure they never fall open and scatter your dice, and as a person who has dropped one down the stairs, they are remarkably durable. With a plethora of woods and customizations, it’s that splurge gift for yourself that keeps on giving.
And that, ladies and gents, is how to clean up your play space. Oh, sure, there are also dice mats, dice towers, and any other number of gadgets and gizmos, but this isn’t golf, this is D&D. This is a game that, ultimately, needs a book, some paper, a pencil (with a really good eraser) and some dice to play. You can streamline your setup and lean on apps to make things smoother and easier, but ultimately, the best part of the game is finding an organizational style that fits your character.