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Mise en place

A French term mainly used in the culinary trade, it means “putting in place”. It refers to the practice of having everything one needs for a work space in a kitchen, organized and arranged to be most effective and efficient.  I use this practice all the time in my life as a chef, and I feel it can be applied to the area behind a DM’s screen as well. For D&D purposes I include the items that a DM needs to bring to the table to ensure a fun game, with a good flow and minimal interruptions and distractions.

There are a few basic items every DM should have with him when he arrives at a game.  These include:

  • Pens and Pencils.  Enough for every player.  Yes, ideally everyone will bring their own, but it never hurts to have backups.
  • Dice.  I bring a number of sets, usually around 4, and a greater number of d6’s.  I feel this allows me to have enough dice to roll for hits for 4 combatants at once, instead of having to roll the same die multiple times.  Again, this is for expedience of play.
  • Rule Books.  This is just common sense.  In the course of a game, there will inevitably be a rules question, or a character question, or a spell question. The DM, if he doesn’t know the answer off the top of his head, or if he needs to provide proof to a rules lawyer, needs to be able to get the answers from the source books. Many times a player won’t have a PHB, and the DM can provide it for the quick use of a player.
  • Module.  Obvious once again, but I have had games where the DM forgot the module but “knows it like the back of his hand” and then runs a rough, and less than fun, interpretation of it. I’ve run through and in Tomb of Horrors probably a dozen times, but I still don’t know every room and riddle in it. We don’t have photographic memories, bring the module with you.
  • Paper.  Lines, graph, hex, blank, poster, tracing, whatever.  Make sure you have paper with you! You need to make notes as you play, the players need to pass notes to you and to each other, maps need to be drawn, and contracts in blood need to be written. Ensure you have the proper medium on which to write said contracts and maps.

I bring additional items with me. Markers of various colors, small tabs to mark pages in books, paper clips, sticky note pads, scissors, and a few miniatures are among the useful items found in my backpack.

For the DM of an Adventurers League game, he should have with him Character Log Sheets, Faction Intro Packs, Magic Item Certs, and DCI sign-up sheets. You can find many of these in the downloads section. We hope that every session brings a new player or two to the game; we need to be able to welcome him with the items he needs. We all like swag, and the Faction packs are really well done and make great handouts for new players.

The DM screen is a wonderful tool. It allows the DM to have a private area to lay his materials without having prying, overly curious, eyes looking at the information. I make many rolls behind the screen, make notes to myself and to other players, and have the module open to relevant areas when needed. The actual backside of the screen is the place to post all the information that will be needed during the game. I use a 2-screen layout, with a gap in between to access the table and the maps. The left side has Player Conditions printed out and  taped to it. It also has the players vital information:  AC, Perception, HP, etc. I hate to constantly ask “What’s your AC?” Better to have it at-a-glance available.  Finally, the screen has other information I feel I need for the current adventure.


The right side is where I have all the information of the monsters and NPC’s the players may encounter.  On the AL Facebook page there is a files section that has a wealth of fill-able forms that work very well here. Nothing slows a game more than having to look up each and every monster and NPC in the module or Monster Manual every time you need the information. Have it readily available!


The last thing you should have for a complete mise en place is knowledge. Know the module and the rules. You don’t need to have the module or adventure known word for word, but you should have a very good idea of what is happening in each area, and what is happening next. Know your NPC’s, their quirks and voices and motivations. If need be (and I’ve done this in the past), use a simple flow chart diagram to ensure you know where the payers should be heading next. Just tape it to the back of your DM screen and take a glance to ensure you are aware of the next area the players should be working towards. Nothing, and I mean nothing, destroys the flow of the game more than a DM having to constantly stop play to reference the module for a simple item he should be aware of.

It seem simple, but the proper preparation for a game session can make the difference between a great time and a boring, halting, 3 hour session. A place for everything, and everything in its place is a good rule for a DM to live by.

Until next time, good DM’ing!

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Sean Hallenbeck

Chef at Teddys Restaurant
With over 30 years of gaming experience, and nearly as much cooking experience, Sean is an eclectic soul.Enjoying gaming, reading, and child-rearing make him a very busy fellow indeed.
Sean Hallenbeck
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Author: Sean Hallenbeck

With over 30 years of gaming experience, and nearly as much cooking experience, Sean is an eclectic soul. Enjoying gaming, reading, and child-rearing make him a very busy fellow indeed.

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