My Lunchtime D&D Toolbox

My lunchtime game is back on. After a six-month hiatus we’ve returned to our once-a-week, one-hour sessions, this time powered by Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

Preparation is essential for the games. We play at a co-worker’s house, and I have to bring everything I need with me. With only 60 minutes I can’t be spending time fumbling around for dice, index cards, pens or any of the other essentials that I take for granted when gaming at home.

The key is my lunchtime RPG toolbox. I first put it together a few years ago when we started playing Savage Worlds over lunch, and I’ve tweaked it with every other game we played: Dragon Age, Numenera, and now D&D.

  • Blank index cards: Used for initiative and note taking
  • PC index cards: Also for initiative, with essential stats (Dexterity modifier, passive Wisdom, race/class, mini description) for each hero.
  • Two sets of dice (with three d20s): D&D demands multiple dice more often than you think (particularly with Advantage and Disadvantage thrown in). Two sets of dice speeds things up considerably.
  • Wet erase markers: The standard color wet erase markers (black, blue, orange, red, purple, brown, green).
  • Black Sharpie marker: For initiative; also not to be confused with the wet erase markers.
  • Monster-filled sandwich bag: Goblins, orcs, skeletons, and a few villain types taken from Heroquest.
  • PC miniatures sandwich bag: A separate bag with the PCs regular miniatures, plus a few poker chips to use for D&D’s Inspiration mechanic.
  • Extra pens and pencils: Because you always need more writing implements.
  • A small tape measure: Good for line-of-site arguments. Also measuring things.

All of this fits in a lunchbox with room to spare. There are a few essentials I can’t fit into the lunchbox:

  • A battle map: My old, square RPGA battle map works well for most encounters, and is smaller and more portable than my bigger maps. Size is important because this is a lunchtime game, and most people are eating while rolling dice.
  • The core rulebooks: We’re still learning the rules, so I bring the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual.
  • A dungeon master’s screen: I bought the Tyranny of Dragons DM screen. I like that it’s low and sturdy, but it’s next to useless when it comes to quick reference stats.
  • Lunch: Usually a soda, a sandwich, and some chips — something I can eat fast, without any special preparation, so I can focus on gaming.
A collection of game supplies for my lunchtime games.
My lunchtime toolkit. Starting from the upper left: The D&D 5e core rule books (PHB, DMG, MM), a DM screen, my lunch box (including wet erase markers, initiative index cards, dice), a bag of monsters, markers and pens, and a bag of bennies and minis. The whole kit sits on a small square battle map. Credit: Ken Newquist

I ran one D&D session without my toolbox, and it was a mess — I had boxes of miniatures, an oversized battle map, no prepared index cards, and only one set of dice. I was constantly fumbling to find things, and while it was unavoidable at the time (family life and work prevented me from being able to prep properly) I swore I’d have the updated D&D toolbox ready to go for the next game. The prep time — particularly the prepared initiative cards, the bag of monsters, and the extra dice — paid off nicely, and the last two sessions have been far less stressful.

I still have some optimizations to make. The three core rulebooks are heavy, bulky, and hard to carry to work if I walk (which is most days). I’m contemplating switching to using just the D&D Basic rules on my iPad, but frankly my iPad is getting old, and quickly referencing the PDFs isn’t quite as fast as it used to be. I think this will be come a more viable option once I’m more familiar with the rules.

Alternatively, I’d love to see Wizards of the Coast come out with a D&D Essentials digest-style book with just the core rules, no character creation, magic items, or other fluff. Having a small reference guide that I can take to work would be fantastic.

I’d also like to upgrade my Dungeon Master’s Screen. The official one doesn’t come out until January 2015, and the Tyranny of Dragons screen, while sturdy, is very limited. The screen only lists stats for conditions, which isn’t nearly as useful as having information about attributes and their related saves, common Difficulty Classes for tasks, partial and total cover rules, and other quick reference information.

I’m researching fan-made DM screens with an eye toward printing one and taping it inside my existing screen; this one looks promising. So does this one. A good DM screen could alleviate the need to bring the rulebooks, and make relying on my iPad a lot easier.

Have your own tips and tricks for making D&D more portable? I’d love to hear them — post a comment or email me at

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