Friday March 4, 2022, is the 20th annual observation of International Game Master’s Day. Founded by a member of the ENWorld forums in 2002, it’s our chance each year to lavish praise and attention on the hard-working individuals who keep the dice rolling in your Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu and other tabletop role-playing games. Dungeon Masters, Storytellers, Masters of Ceremonies, Keepers whatever you call ’em, today is the day to show them some love — or at least get the ball rolling on a fun gift for later in the year.
What can players do to celebrate their GM? Speaking from experience, it would be nice if you can just show up on time and be ready to play for once in your life. Maybe you can spring for pizza this week or — better yet — something other than pizza. But hey, everybody likes presents don’t they? The more thoughtful, the better.
Places like DriveThruRPG are running sales, of course. I’m sure you can find a new splatbook, or even a whole new system, to explore together. But if you’re looking for something more creative, here are three stories from the team at Polygon about how they’ve shown their admiration for the person behind the screen.
Over the last seven years or so, I’ve been lucky enough to play in Green Ronin’s Dragon Age setting with a group of wonderful people, topped off by a wonderful game master. In that time we have tried to show our appreciation as often as possible.
One of our players commissions annual holiday cards with art of our characters. Another regularly orders us custom HeroForge minis that celebrate our characters’ new looks or big moments — and she recently sent our GM a whole set of his favorite non-player characters. We don’t use them, mind you. Heaven forbid. No, we play by Roll20 — which also offers some nice gift subscriptions.
Most recently, since we knew that in our next story we’d be traveling to the still-largely-unexplored-in-canon Dragon Age country of Tevinter — for which he’d have to do a lot more from-scratch worldbuilding than usual — we got our GM a middle-grade visual guide to Ancient Rome to page through for inspiration. And for the sheer number of times he’s made us care enough about the story to get choked up over it, we bought him a true classic: A mug that says PLAYER TEARS. —Susana Polo
I’m a big fan of commissioning art as a thank you to the GM and the players who make up a campaign. You can find a wealth of talented artists online; I’ve spent some time just following the ones I like on social media, discovering those with styles that speak to me, and then keeping an eye out for when they open up for commissions. Then, when the time is right, I strike.
Sometimes, I’ll even draw my own gift art, although I’m a hobbyist and not a professional. It’s delightful to not just create art of the player characters, but of particularly memorable or likable NPCs. They’re all a part of the adventure, after all.
Recently, after a long-running game set in an alternate Marvel universe, I even had the gang commissioned by an amazing artist in a tarot-card style.
The memory of terrible dice rolls eventually fades away, but good art lasts forever. And no – it doesn’t require an NFT. —Cass Marshall
Dice, snacks, and more
I’ll third the idea of art commissions being great appreciation gifts for GMs and for everyone else in a game. If you search for the words “commissions open” or “commissions sheet” on Twitter or Tumblr, you’ll find hundreds of artists willing to turn your character descriptions into cool images. The Exalted game I’ve been in for the last five years now has done this several times. It’s an excellent way to help other people visualize your characters, and to generate new online avatars for them if you’re playing via Discord, Roll20, or other online systems.
But for more GM-specific gifts rather than whole-party gifts: Keeping up on new material for some of the more commercial games out there can be pricey. Chipping in to buy your GM the latest sourcebook, or filling in their back catalog with a previous one they don’t already have, is always a good way to support them. Services like D&D Beyond and DriveThruRPG even have an option at checkout to apply a digital book to someone else’s account.
There’s the usual gamer gear, like dice, fancy screens or notebooks, minis, maps, and markers, all that sort of stuff. Depends a lot on what kind of game you’re playing and whether there are materials they use a lot or could use more. Particularly weird novelty dice can be a fun one-off gift as well. Just hit Twitter or Etsy and do some digging, with keywords such as “resin,” “hand poured,” and “custom dice” being a great way to narrow things down.
And I don’t know a single gamer who doesn’t like fancy snacks. There are a million cheap options on the usual mail-order services like Amazon. If you’re cool with commercial packaged cookies, the Grandma’s Variety Pack is a pretty ridiculous deal, though personally, I prefer Cakebites, which are more or less a processed version of petit fours. If you want to go more upscale, designing someone a custom snack mix at Nuts.com or a snack box at a site like Sugarwish.com lets you get really specific about personal tastes.
The best gift I ever got as a GM was when one of my players in the Lady Blackbird campaign I’ve been running since 2016 designed us all matching T-shirts with everyone’s character names, in the classic Helvetica Names List style. It’s pretty cheap and easy to do via Etsy, Zazzle, CafePress, etc. Group T-shirts are a slightly corny idea, but they really acknowledge how a particularly special game can feel like a little private club.
If you don’t have a lot of money to play with right now, here’s a special, customizable GM gift that’s free: If your GM is handling scheduling for games themselves, consider taking over that responsibility for a bit. Maybe it’s just the people I game with, but navigating player schedules and getting that next game on the calendar can be such a grind, especially when you’re in a lot of games at once and people have complicated schedules. Just making scheduling one less thing for your GM to worry about can be a huge boon — and it’s essentially giving them more free time, which right now feels like one of the best gifts you can offer people.
Finally, I asked my Exalted group what they’d recommend for GM gifts. Our GM pointed out that a lot of gamers listen to actual-play podcasts, and if your GM has a favorite, you can always check whether that podcast does paid shout-outs or has a “name an NPC” sponsorship deal, where you toss them a little money to put a given name in the game — which could be your GM’s, or the name of a signature character.
Another player gave me what may be the best advice here: “I’ll go ahead and be a squish and say that a genuine note of appreciation is a perfectly fine gift all by itself. DMing is a labor of love, but still labor, and it’s always nice to have that recognized. Oh, and offering to run something, so your DM can play for a change, would also be nice!” —Tasha Robinson