Propping Up Your Game

Over on Hero Press, Flea posted a dungeon map he fabricated, which sent us spinning into a nerd's debate on which hot drink could best be used to simulate old parchment. Read it and believe it.

While table top role-playing games are the domain of the imagination, there's nothing like an actual object the players can handle to give the game an extra oomph. Maps, pictures and era-appropriate documents can all be made with a computer and color printer (not even color, in many cases), and I will often craft those if I can, but the aforementioned discussion sent me searching through old boxes to see what I'd made and kept over the years. Not much has survived, I admit, though I still have a Deck of Many Things:
The first of the sample shows the back, meant to simulate some kind of blackened wood. This was in the late 80s, long before I had access to Photoshop.

Regardless of the prop's quality, it acts as a focus for the role-playing. It is a piece of the game world, somehow smuggled into your own, and brings the game away from "my character does this" to "I am actually doing this". From narration to acting the part.

And it's easier than people think. Scavenging is a skill GameMasters should cultivate. Shiny rocks can be handed out as talismans, ioun stones or runes with a minimum of fuss. A massive old book can be turned into a grimoire by simply inserting pages of your own making in it. An old circuit board can act as the McGuffin for your cyberpunk run. Perhaps you've marked it with a clue in some way. A chess board can be repurposed into an entirely different game by simply changing the pieces to your mom's crystal collection... or your kid brother's HeroClicks. It's not always a matter of finding the right prop, sometimes it finds you! I've built entire games around a found object.

And then there's the prop as atmosphere. Put up maps of the game world on your walls before the players arrive. Light the room with candles or muted lighting, or get some color bulbs. A simple desk lamp can turn a dark room into an interrogation chamber. A laser pointer will let a player know a sniper is on to him. A simple cardboard tube will create that speaker voice you need for your A.I. If you have a weapon or illness with a certain effect, make that effect visual or auditory, and give the players those cues. It's great to see the paranoia that develops through the judicious use of crinkly paper or, if your players are patient, some "sweaty" water spray.

It's all about immersion.


Tim Knight said...

Thanks for the mention. Glad the discussion on HeroPress stirred your synapses. That Deck Of Many Things is neat - I forked out for the Green Ronin "official" one, which is nice, but not unique like yours.

Siskoid said...

Haha! I took great care not to show the ones with badly drawn, cartoony characters!


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