43 Must-Have RPG Tools for Game Masters

43 Must-Have RPG Tools for Game Masters

Written by Luke Hart

When I first started running tabletop roleplaying games, there weren’t many tools for game masters. There were some, but they weren’t the easiest to find and certainly weren’t one click away. All I really had were my 2nd Edition player handbook, monster manual, dungeon master guide, and my brain, of course.

One might argue that those are probably the only tools you actually need, and while they are technically correct, with the plethora of RPG tools in books and online today, not using what we have at our disposal as game masters would be akin to using cavalry in a modern war. You can do it, sure, but wouldn’t you rather have tanks, Bradleys, and attack choppers? I probably would.

Today, I’m going to give you a quick-fire list of the best game master tools I recommend. Some are system-specific because I play lots of D&D and Pathfinder 2, but you can use many of them for any game system. Unless I say otherwise, just assume that you can use a resource for any game system. And, of course, there will be links to everything.

Watch or listen to this article by clicking the video below.

Advice Books

If you’re looking for general GM advice books, these are the four that I recommend.

#1 The Secret Art of Game Mastery by the DM Lair. Yes, I know, it’s my own book, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include it. This is actually a three-book collection. The primary book, The Secret Art of Game Mastery, contains practical GM advice based on the combined game master experience of my team and me. The other two books, The Secret Art of Preparation and The Secret Art of Notetaking, are journals designed to help you prepare for and keep track of events in your games.

#2 Arbiter of Worlds: A Primer for Gamemasters by Alexander Macris is a fantastic book for learning worldbuilding and the craft of game mastering. It’s a short read but packed with lots of great information.

#3 So You Want to be a Game Master by Justin Alexander dives deep into many of the mechanics a game master might use in their games. However, the mechanics are system-agnostic. For instance, one chapter breaks down how to run heists, but for any game system. It does contain non-mechanical information, but I think the mechanics are its strong suit.

#4 The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones is the definitive guide for game masters and writers on fantasy worlds, tropes vs. cliches, and worldbuilding in general.


#1 The Dungeon Master’s Design Kit by Aaron Allston and Harold Johnson is a D&D 1st Edition resource. It is perhaps the very best resource ever published on adventure design, with templates and advice on story structure, fantasy and adventure tropes, and adventure design. If physical copies are out there, they are probably collector’s items, but you can get the PDF on the GM’s Guild.

#2 The Game Master’s Book of Series includes 11 books on a wide variety of topics. They are excellent resource books for game masters who want shortcuts and advice on the complex elements of game mastering, such as non-player characters, villains and minions and their tactics, traps, puzzles, and dungeons.

#3 The Monsters Know What They’re Doing and Moar! Monsters Know What They’re Doing by Keith Ammann. There is no better guide for D&D 5e for understanding monsters and how they work strategically; furthermore, the techniques can also be applied to other game systems as well. How to Defend Your Lair is a third book in the series that delves into how monsters defend their lairs. The fourth book, Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters, discusses combat tactics for player characters. You can get the books individually or as a four-book set.

#4 DMGR5 Creative Campaigning for 2nd Edition AD&D is the first real “official” resource for creating D&D campaigns. Still, it’s generic enough to apply it to any game system. It has great advice for what a campaign is, how adventures feed into it, and how to incorporate the story and rewards.

#5 The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding by Kobold Press. This is a great resource for both beginning and experienced game masters learning to build their own worlds. While you’re at it, you can pick up Kobold Guide to Roleplaying, which has one chapter in it written by yours truly.

Map-Making Tools

#1 The Medieval Fantasy City Generator. This free online tool lets you instantly make city maps, and it allows for a lot of customization. I used it when I created the city of Frostmantle in my Pathfinder 2 Eberron campaign.

#2 Inkarnate is another map-making tool, though this one has both a free and paid version. It’s great for building large-scale fantasy maps like worlds and continents or smaller dungeon maps and battle maps. It can rather do it all, which is why it’s my personal map-making tool of choice. It does have a wee learning curve, but it’s fun to play around with.

#3 Dungeon Scrawl. This bad boy lets you create “Dyson-style” maps for the no-frills map maker. There is a free and a paid version.

#4 Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft. These map-making tools are not free, but they do their jobs well. Wonderdraft is great for building large-scale fantasy maps like continents and entire worlds, and Dungeondraft allows you to create dungeons and battle maps.


#1 Foundry VTT. This is my virtual tabletop of choice. I used Roll20 for years, but once I made the switch—wow! I never want to go back. Foundry VTT is customizable, with thousands of modules available, providing a beautiful VTT experience. There is a bit of a learning curve, but there are also a lot of videos on YouTube to help. If you’re going to pick a VTT to use, I cannot recommend Foundry enough. It has official support for D&D 5e, Pathfinder 2, and multitudes of other RPGs. This thing is the bomb.

#2 Roll20. Many folks still use Roll20, but mostly because it was one of the first, if not the first, VTT out there. Its popularity is 100% due to being first to market, not because it offers the best product. That said, Roll20 is a functional but basic VTT that is OK if you’re just starting out. However, it’s not very stable, and honestly, if you’re going to pick a VTT to learn, I’d go elsewhere.

#3 Fantasy Grounds is similar to Foundry but a little more complicated. I’ve never used it, but almost anyone I talk to mentions the outdated interface and steep learning curve. There are, however, lots of videos on YouTube to help.

#4 Owlbear Rodeo, Talespire, Alchemy RPG, and others. There are tons of VTTs out there, and it seems like a new one comes out on Kickstarter at least every year. Many offer breathtaking visuals, too, if that’s what you’re looking for. Just remember that there is a balancing act between how cool something looks and how usable it is. A VTT may look amazing during gameplay, but if it takes you eight hours to set up a basic dungeon, that’s a cost worth considering. If you spend too much time setting up the technology, other parts of your game prep will almost certainly suffer.

General Tools

#1 Donjon. So. Many. Resources. This free online site leans towards D&D 5e, but there are tools for earlier editions and many generic tools that work for any game system.

#2 Demiplane. This is a growing tool similar to the early version of DNDBeyond, including Pathfinder 2e, Daggerheart, Avatar the Last Airbender, World of Darkness, and many more game systems.

#3 Archives of Nethys. If you play Pathfinder, Pathfinder 2, or Starfinder and aren’t using Archives of Nethys, you’re missing out on the best resource on the Internet. It contains nearly everything from the core books, has an excellent search function, and is 100% free.

#4 PF2 Tools. This free site has tons of Pathfinder 2 tools for everything from making monsters and items to planning encounters, making characters, and much more.

#5 dScryb. If you’re looking for narrative descriptions and “boxed text” for monsters, spells, and almost anything else in your game, dScryb is a great place to start. It even has maps, sound effects, and ambient music for your games! Much of the content is free, and a paid subscription unlocks even more.

#6 World Anvil. This software offers a great way to track your campaign and game world. It has free and paid versions, with paid versions unlocking more advanced features.

#7 Obsidian Portal. This tool serves as a GM notebook that helps you track your campaign online. It’s kind of like a game world wiki. There are both free and paid versions.

Encounter Builders

I recommend these encounter builders for D&D 5e and Pathfinder 2.

#1 Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Encounter Calculator. This is my go-to calculator for 5e. It’s a no-frills option but quickly gets the job done, and that’s all I care about.

#2 Kobold Fight Club. So, lots of people swear by this one, so I had better mention it. However, it looks like it shut down in 2021. However, its successor, Kobold Plus Fight Club, is up and running. I imagine it’s worth taking a look at, too.

#3 Pathfinder 2e Encounter Builder. This is my favorite PF2 encounter builder. You can quickly search existing monsters and add them to the encounter, and it tells you what the difficulty will be.

#4 Encounter Builder. This is my second favorite PF2 encounter builder. It’s a no-frills option that is perfect when using custom monsters you can’t easily add to an encounter with the first tool I mentioned.


#1 EN World. The world’s largest independent RPG news website. Stay up to date and get all your juicy tidbits here.

#2 Tribality. This is another blog full of advice, news, and product reviews.

#3 Bell of Lost Souls. This site is a huge resource for RPGs with advice, news, and product reviews.

#4 The DM Lair. I supposed I had better mention my own blog, too. Every week, I post GM advice and free 5e and Pathfinder 2 resources such as monsters, traps, puzzles, encounters, and even entire adventures.

YouTube Channels

Besides my own channel, these are some solid choices.

#1 Seth Skorkowsky. This channel has great GM and player advice and reviews on old-school and non-D&D products. These are some of the very best videos on running horror, heists, and mysteries on YouTube, based on Seth’s decades of experience with all three.

#2 Bob Worldbuilder. My friend Bob has great takes on modern RPGs and the OSR. He has a laid-back attitude (probably the opposite of me) and an obvious desire to just have fun playing RPGs.

#3 Dungeon Craft. Professor Dungeon Master gives great general GM advice, shares pointers about making newer RPG systems feel old-school, and offers his take on RPG news.

#4 Dungeon Coach. My friend Alan is the homebrew master. If you’re into homebrewing the crap out of your game, check this channel out. He’s also working on his own TTRPG called DC20; I’ve played it a few times, and it is amazing. If D&D 5e is getting a bit stale for you and you’re looking for a truly heroic-feeling game system, DC20 is the place to look.

#5 How It’s Played. This channel helps folks learn to play multiple game systems, has Pathfinder product reviews, and quick rules reminders for PF2.

#6 Mythkeeper. This channel is perhaps the best way to learn about the Pathfinder world of Golarion; it’s like the History Channel for a fictional world.

#7 Dicebreaker. This channel has great reviews and introduces multiple systems and RPG play styles.

Music and Sound Effects

These tools obviously work for in-person games but also integrate well with some virtual tabletops.

#1 Tabletop Audio. This is my preferred site for amazing RPG music. I have it playing during all my in-person Pathfinder 2 games, and I’d use it for my Foundry VTT games, too, except I couldn’t get the module to work. I’m sure it does work; I just didn’t have time to goof with it.

#2 Syrinscape. This site offers a fantastic musical and sound effects engine with a massive library.

#3 Battlebards. Here, you can grab great short musical riffs and sound effects.

#4 Incompetech. This is a massive library of free public-domain cinematic music. One could get lost on this site for hours.

100 Years of GM Experience at Your Fingertips!

Are you a NEW GAME MASTER feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything involved with running a role-playing game? Are you a VETERAN GAME MASTER looking for new tips and tricks to take your games to the next level? Look no further than the Secret Art of Game Mastery.

We at the DM Lair have distilled our CENTURY of accumulated GM experience into an easy-to-read guide of practical advice that you can immediately apply to your games! We've even included our own templates–the things that we use to prepare our ACTUAL games.

Get all three books to master your game:

  • The Secret Art of Game Mastery. Contains over 100 years of GM advice distilled into an easy-to-read format. It introduces and explains the tools of the trade, scheduling, playstyle, post-game notes, getting player feedback, and more.
  • The Secret Art of Preparation. Brings to your fingertips the actual templates and guides that the DM Lair team uses to prepare games, Lair Magazine, and more. Designed as a three-ring binder, it's intended for you to write directly into for your entire campaign!
  • The Secret Art of Notetaking. Gives you the keys to tracking your campaign from session to session just like the DM Lair team. Designed as a three-ring binder, it's intended for you to write in and keep track of your whole campaign!

With so much knowledge and experience on its pages, The Secret Art of Game Mastery is guaranteed to become an indispensable tool for all game masters, new and veteran alike. And if that isn’t enough, the information applies to all game systems and all genres!



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