31 Jul Dungeon Master Tools – Free RPG resources
For those that have tables that like to be immersed with battle maps, props, handouts and visual stimuli (you know the stuff that takes DMs forever to create!) then read on.
As a DM, I know firsthand that time management can be tricky. Prepping for sessions, and building content is time-consuming.
And that does not include your job as a secretary, trying to coordinate everyone’s busy schedule to tee up a regular time to play. The bane of all DMs!
As such I have compiled a list of FREE DM resources and tips that will help DMs better manage their time, so they can concentrate on what they do best…being creative to provide the maximum amount of fun for their tables.
Whether it’s ways to track notes and character sheets or acquire miniatures/tokens, battle maps, and handouts to help facilitate games, then in this article, we will explore some of the best free RPG resources.
Keeping Track of Campaign Information
For keeping track of character, monster, and NPC sheets my personal favorites are DnD Beyond (D&D Specific) and Roll20 (multiple gaming systems).
Admittedly, the free versions of these programs are limited in what you can store and access, however even free, they are amazing resources.
For instance, in the free version of DnD Beyond, you can build 6 Character sheets and store them online using all of the basic rules or SRD content.
Other popular free campaign tracking tools include:
World Anvil, Goblin notebook, and Chronica
Online Gaming/Virtual Table Tops (VTT)
For tables that like to play online, programs like Roll20 (as mentioned above), Foundry VTT, and Fantasy Grounds exist.
These are fantastic tools that really benefit the DM.
They are compatible with most of the popular official campaigns, rulebooks, and source material of, D&D, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Call of Cthulhu, and Warhammer, plus many other game developers. In addition, there is a lot of nonofficial content, compatible with major gaming systems that can be plugged into the program.
This includes maps and tools inbuilt into the program like dice, spells, rules and everything a DM and players will need to enjoy their sessions.
These programs are also great for homebrew in any system and allow DMs to customize their games, and more importantly, organize their campaigns as they see fit.
Uploading battle maps, handouts, resources, and basically anything a DM will ever need to run a fun game are at your fingertips.
Another good program for online gaming is Owlbear Rodeo.
It is a far simpler version of Roll20 , Foundry VTT, and Fantasy Grounds and does not have the benefit of loading in premade campaigns/modules or the complex tools available to the aforementioned. However, it is a great online resource with basic functionality to help DMs streamline their online games by uploading battle maps and tokens while having basic dice and measurement functions.
Remember that playing online can also be done LIVE.
Nothing stops your table from bringing laptops, tablets, and devices and taking advantage of the programs above to help streamline the game.
I have done this on multiple occasions and it is amazing!
I touched on premade campaigns above as part of the online gaming programs.
Premade campaigns are a great way to ease new DMs into the role of head of the table. But even for experienced DMs, premade modules are great if you need a break from engaging in what seems like a full-time job … providing content for your players.
For digital copies, DnD Beyond, Roll20, and Foundry VTT are among the best. Regardless of what system you prefer, there are a lot of official campaigns as well as fan-made content. Not all of it is free of course but there are some hidden gems amongst the paid content.
For sources of other campaigns/modules, DMs guild and Drive Thru RPG are you go to stores. They provide both fan-created and official content that is compatible with the D&D and other RPG games. Some content is free but you will have to look for it within their marketplaces.
Free Battle Map Providers and Creators
If you like to engage in homebrew, or even if you are playing premade campaigns and want to provide your players with some extra map locations (Like that map of the Inn they frequent that is not provided within the pre-made module), then sources of Free Battle Maps are invaluable.
Below I have compiled some of the best sites where you can get either get free battle maps or map-making tools to make your life easier, regardless if your games are online or live.
The Fateful force: The fateful Force has over 50 FREE battle maps ready to download with zero paywalls.
Maps can be uploaded into Roll20, Foundry VTT, Owlbear Rodeo, and other online programs as well as printed up for Live games. They are for personal use only.
Free Battle Map from The Fateful Force
Reddit Battle Maps
A number of amazing subreddit forums exist, specifically catering to map making, map showcasing, and map distribution.
Care must be used when picking maps from these forums but generally speaking these forums don’t allow for piracy so maps are free for personal use. Artists and cartographers also frequently post free content from their websites/Patreon as specials for fans to download for personal use. These subreddits are also a good place to find artists for commission.
The most popular subreddit forums dedicated to battle maps are:
Battle Maps, D&D Maps, Dungeondaft, and Fantasy Maps,
Facebook Battle Maps
Like Reddit, there are Facebook pages dedicated to providing and sharing battle maps. The same rules of copyrights apply, not all maps are intended for public use.
The most popular Facebook Pages dedicated to battle maps are:
D&D/RPG Maps, Fantasy Maps and Worldbuilding, RPG Battle-Map Emporium, D&D 5e / RPG Maps / VTT / Roll20 / Animated RPG Maps, and Foundry VTT Community
Dungeondraft: In my opinion, this is the best battle map-making tool. It has a one-off price attached to it, but you can use the program to make unlimited maps with a range of great premade assets to customize your maps.
You can even sell and distribute maps made with Dungeondraft and many artists use the program as their foundation for battle maps on their Patreon pages.
2-minute tabletops: 2-minute tabletops provide assets that plug straight into Dungeondraft. Most assets cost money but some are free. There are plenty of assets and asset packs to choose from. You cannot distribute maps made with 2-minute tabletop assets for any commercial benefit however you can make as many maps as you like and showcase the maps in accordance with the General Licensing and Attribution clause of the product.
Inkarnate: Inkarnate is much the same as Dungeondraft. It is a program that allows for map creation.
Roll20: Roll20 has some map-making asset tools that are free as well as some that you have to pay for. It is pretty user-friendly. Assets and tools on Roll20 are specific to the program.
Free token makers and free tokens
If your players love all their NPC to look unique and different in a game, then buying miniatures (or lots of digital tokens) is just too expensive. A great alternative to this is online token makers and free token packs.
Token makers are primarily used for online games, but some people like to print them out and use them for live games instead of miniatures.
Below is a list of the most popular online Token Makers and places for free tokens.
The Fateful Force, Roll Advantage, and Tactical Tokens all have free token makers with a wide variety of token borders to choose from.
Fatefulforce token variations
Roll20 and Foundry VTT offer some free tokens and token packs through their marketplaces, so worth rolling an investigation check to find them.
Some Subreddit forums are specific for RPG tokens, attracting artists and enthusiasts that share their art. Not everything posted is free, but there are some hidden gems amongst these posts.
Playing Judge and Jury comes part and parcel with the DM gig. However, it can at times become overwhelming.
While in theory, the DM is “GOD” at the table, the reality is that most tables function on a system based on trust and some debate 😊.
No one loves a rules lawyer, but establishing game rules in a campaign can solve a lot of drama later on.
It’s not unheard of for some tables to fall apart because players feel the DM is playing against them, making up or ignoring rules to suit them, or for DMs to quit because players try to bend the rules to favor preferred outcomes.
None of these elements are within the spirit of the game, and it’s always wise for DMs and players to have a fall-back position to help settle disputes so the table can get on with what’s important … playing the actual game and having fun!
The obvious answer is to refer to the rules books of the system you are playing.
But as many experienced DMs can attest, interpreting these rules is not always straightforward and the Rules Books don’t always have the answers to every scenario and homebrew.
What I have found that helps in these scenarios, is agreeing with the players on an external rules Adjudication source.
If there is a disagreement on the interpretation of rules, then the table can fall back on this pre-decided independent rules adjudicator that will bind all parties.
For D&D 5e, Sage Advice is a godsend. In essence, it is the Game Designers of D&D answering questions pertaining to rules to help precisely solve the above scenarios.
Sage advice Twitter, Sage Advice Compendium
Other great avenues of rule adjudication are specific Facebook pages and Subreddit channels.
Some popular Facebook pages are Dungeon Master Resources and D&D DMs only, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and DnD Next,
For non-D&D DMs: Pathfinder RPG, Call of Cthulhu Role-Playing Game & Players, and Starfinder RPG
These communities are quick to answer questions. The only proviso is that different DMs may have different opinions, so clear-cut answers to questions may be hard at times.
Although going for the “consensus” of responses for resolutions to problems is not a bad strategy when asking for advice on rules.
Free Fantasy art is the hardest resource to acquire. As usual, readers are encouraged to walk as carefully as possible through image rights. Most art possesses copyright and is not for general distribution and reproduction. Fantasy art for DMs is incredibly valuable. They can use it to create character/monster tokens, handouts, and visual aids for their players that can all help with immersion. But not everyone is an artist. Popular sources of art include Facebook and Reddit but fair warning. A lot of this art is not intended for distribution and only as means to showcase an artist’s work. Please read the description of every post before copying the art shown and if in doubt always ask permission in the thread from the author.
Other sources of free art
Inspiration, Ideas, and Help
Amongst many things, a DMs job is to be a storyteller. Inspiration and ideas can challenge even the best storytellers, so in these cases, it’s always nice to receive tips, ideas, and inspiration.
Facebook can provide a rich source of tips and ideas. Great Facebook pages include:
Dungeon Master Resources, D&D DMs only, DnD Next, Dungeons and Dragons, DMs & GMs Resources, D&D – Monsters and More, D&D 5e Character Optimization, and Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
For non-D&D specific DMs:
Pathfinder 2nd Edition, Pathfinder RPG, Starfinder RPG, and Call of Cthulhu Role-Playing Game & Players
Popular Reddit hangouts include:
DnD, DnD Next, Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeons_and_Dragons, DungeonMasters, Roll20, DM Academy
For non-D&D specific DMs:
WarhammerFantasyRPG, Pathfinder2e, PathfinderRPG, Starfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Zweihander
Books, Movie and TV Shows
Reading fantasy books from some of the most popular authors or watching movies and TV shows is a sure way to gain inspiration for your own stories. Don’t be scared to adapt the setting, ideas from popular books, and even movie/TV shows!
This can be very beneficial if your player loves particular settings. Star Wars, Warhammer, Forgotten Realms, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter to name a few are all popular and amazing settings for your table to delve into.
Watching popular streams is a great way to receive inspiration and ideas for your own campaign. If a stream or content provider is popular, then it’s a good bet that they are providing great ideas and overall entertainment that can appeal to a broad audience that may very well translate over into your game.
Popular YouTube/Twitch streams include
Critical Role, High rollers DnD, Dungeons and Dragons, and Weave the Tale
*Free battle resources are designed for personal use, not commercial reproduction/distribution
Addition useful resources
The Tome of Syyx – A D&D Style Epic Fantasy
If you are a reader that enjoys both D&D and Epic Fantasy, then The Tome of Syyx is the book for you!
Tasked with helping secure the future of the town of Sanctuary, four young adventurers soon discover that armies of orcs and hobgoblins are far from the only threats to peace on the frontier.
Ancient evils stir. Deals must be brokered. But can everyone be trusted?