Dungeons & Dragons is bigger than ever, and thousands of new players are trying out the game for the first time.
The great thing about D&D is that all you need is a Player's Handbook, a set of dice, a character sheet, a pen and paper, and your imagination. However, there's still a lot of rules to juggle and new players can struggle with keeping track of stuff like spell slots, initiative order, or a player's inventory.
Luckily, there are a ton of great tools that DMs can use to help make their players' Dungeons & Dragons experience a little easier or more fun. All of these items or resources are completely optional, but even veteran D&D players find many of these invaluable for keeping track of campaigns, combat, or more.
One of the most common tools on the D&D table is an initiative tracker. Initiative sets the order of combat and knowing when you fall in the initiative order means that you can prepare your action in advance to keep things moving.
Technically, only the DM needs to know the initiative order, but most DMs like to display an initiative list for their players. An initiative order can be as simple as a small wet or dry erase board, but some DMs like to get fancy and use a dedicated initiative order tracker.
One of the most confusing parts of Dungeons & Dragons is managing spells. Different classes have different ways of using spells, and it can be tedious to keep track of what spells you have prepared and what spell slots you have open. Plus, when you use a spell, you usually have to flip through the Player's Handbook in order to determine whether there's a saving throw or any extra effects that you haven't considered
There are two different techniques that players use to keep track of their spells and spell slots. The first is the use of spell decks, a set of cards that list the effects of spells on individual cards. Gale Force 9 produces spell decks for individual classes, so you can buy a deck that only contains the spells you need.
The other method is tracking spell slots. Each player has a set number of spells they can use every day. It's easy enough to use a pencil and paper to keep track of spells, but some players use poker chips or a dice to keep track of spell slots too. You can easily buy a cheap set of poker chips and mark them with spell levels so that you can see how many spells left in your arsenal for that day.
There's two ways to manage combat in Dungeons & Dragons: the "theater of the mind" or using a grid to display the battlefield. There's benefits and drawbacks to both sides, but a lot of players still associate D&D combat with moving around miniatures on some kind of board.
As with other aspects of D&D, running combat on a grid can be as simple or complex as you and your group wants it to be. Some players use dice, coins, or small stones to represent their characters and monsters, while others like using actual plastic or metal miniatures to depict their characters.
Choosing a miniature for your character can be a bit of a black hole. There are a TON of options out there, ranging from pre-painted figures by WizKids to unpainted miniatures by companies like Reaper. You should be able to track down a miniature for $5 or less online, especially if you hunt around for a good deal on a site like eBay. If you can't find a miniature you like, you can also make a custom miniature using a service like HeroForge, although that will be significantly more expensive.
D&D Beyond is the premium tool for D&D players. Part rules database and part character tracker, D&D Beyond is a one-stop shop for players who want to reference one site for all their D&D needs.
D&D Beyond has several tools that make life a lot easier for players. The character maker automatically plugs in racial bonuses and special skills and will add new skills and abilities as you level up. Your DM can also automatically distribute inventory to players, which means that there's less keeping track of special items. D&D Beyond also has options for homebrew material, so that players don't have to feel bound to only official character races or classes. There's tons of other tools for DMs as well, all designed to make managing a campaign easier.
The only downside to D&D Beyond is that it's a paid service. Players will need to buy digital versions of the various D&D rulebooks in order to unlock that content for their character sheet. So, you can build a Tabaxi Hexblade Warlock on the site, but you'll need to pay for the Player's Handbook, Xanathar's Guide to Everything, and Volo's Guide to Monsters to do so. There's also a subscription fee in order to manage more than six characters at a time or share content across accounts.
A lot of players swear by D&D Beyond (and it's a fantastic resource, easily the best digital resource for D&D) and many D&D groups pool resources to pay for the material. A DM with the Master Tier subscription can share all unlocked info with their players, which gives the whole table access to material. D&D Beyond might look a bit pricey at first glance, but it's much more manageable when split between five or six players.
Sound effects are a great way to build ambiance for the game and keep players invested and immersed even during quiet moments. Some DMs use random soundtracks from popular movies during battle, but there's also several websites that have ambient sound to build atmosphere as you lead your players into a noisy tavern or a creepy dungeon.
Some of our favorite sites include Syrinscape, which allows players to mix in their favorite songs with pre-generated mixes and soundtracks for specific situations, and Tabletop Audio, a free website with plenty of ambient noises for different locales. If these aren't to your liking, you can find several other apps or websites online that will help build atmosphere as you approach a tense encounter.
Trello is a digital organization tool, and might seem like a strange fit for Dungeons & Dragons. However, Trello's digital index card system is a great way for both DMs and players to keep track of their campaign.
Trello uses a simple system of lists and cards that can be used to organize ongoing quests, NPCs, inventory, or really anything that a player can think of. I personally use Trello as a way to keep track of NPCs, especially those who the players have taken a liking to or taken a personal interest in.
It's also a great way to keep a campaign balanced between players. By using Trello to keep track of the progress of quests in a campaign, you might notice that one of your players hasn't made any progress on their personal quests and dedicate a session to making sure that player doesn't feel that their story is being neglected in favor of the more forceful party members.