I could get all high-falutin’ here, and talk about the essential qualities players (and GMs, who are players doing a different thing) should possess, but I’m going to take a more prosaic approach. What do I put in a my bag when I go to a game?
The book(s) of course, though as I write “of course” I doubt myself. Ideally I’d know the system so well I could leave the book at home. Even when I don’t crack open a book during play, it sits there on the table, conferring some sort of “authority” through its presence. Is it essential though?
And actually apart from D&D 5th ed, all my games come with PDFs. I used to prefer paper books for actually learning the rules, flicking back and forth between sections seemed tiresome on an iPad, but I notice, more and more recently, that I’m happy with the PDF, so can see a time when the books might stay on my shelves, to peruse at leisure or … maybe just stay in the stores and warehouses. Maybe not though, the iconic power of the core book on the table, like a bible in a church, might be too important to lose.
More and more though, I use my iPad, as a character sheet store, rules reference and notpad, all in one. I was constantly losing notebooks, and staring another. Now everything I write in OneNote is backed up in the cloud and on every other machine. I use dice rollers too, if I forget my dice, or I’m playing Star Wars games. With the split screen ability (pictured above) of my new Pro, it’s all becoming even easier. FengShui2 has a combat tracker for the iPad as well, which is very useful when I run that game. So my iPad is perhaps fast becoming the only essential tool.
It’s not the only thing I take to games though. I carry an All Rolled Up dice roll, with dice, a couple of pens/pencils and a fab thing I’ve forgotten the name of: like a laminated pack of Index Cards that folds out into a whiteboard. Plain on one side, or Fate/Cortex aspects and gridded/hexed on the reverse for maps.
Tokens of course for the games that use them. I used Chinese coins and black glass beads, but are they essential? Probably not.