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Using Props in RPG Games - Monte Cook Games
I don’t always use props when I run an RPG because at their heart, tabletop RPGs are about evoking a world of imagination through the spoken (or written) word. That said, why make imagination do all the work? Descriptions can always be spiced up, anchored, and otherwise enhanced by something you provide your players that makes them feel more in touch with what you’re describing. I’ll go further: you should consider adding some props to your game if you’re not already doing so. Props engage players in a new way, engage several senses at once, and make a game more memorable. If you already use props, you’ve probably already tried many of the props described below, and probably some I haven’t thought of. The thing to keep in mind about props in RPG games is this: use them judiciously, not constantly. If players come to expect a certain kind of prop because it’s what you always do, that moment of excitement for each new prop reveal becomes less over time. The answer might just be in varying the kind of prop you use. Pictures “You see this,” is such an obvious use of props that I doubt I need say much about it; you’re probably already using pictures as props yourself. Appropriate props for GMs include illustrations of interesting or scary NPCs the characters have just met, creatures about to attack the PCs, wondrous locations where the PCs find themselves, and other scenes to help sketch in a particular event. Before I GM, I sometimes gather pictures from Deviant Art and other online sources suitable for the adventure I’m using, and make them available as a series of URLs. This works great in real life if I have a tablet or other surface to display the picture, or if I’m GMing a game online via a video chat or on an online virtual table like Roll20. (Of course, if I’m GMing a published adventure that contains pictures already designed to be shown to the players, I’m already good to go. The “Show ‘Ems” in all the MCG printed adventures–The Devil’s Spine, The Dark Spiral, and the forthcoming Weird Discoveries–are a great example.) Sounds Do you use soundtracks to set the mood for your games? I don’t usually, but I always appreciate it when my GM does it. I know some GMs have a rotating playlist, depending on the game and mood they’d like to evoke. Movie soundtracks often make great RPG game soundtracks. A perennial favorite is the original Conan movie soundtrack, but I’m guessing that the soundtrack to the more recent film Gravity would also work great many situations. Some GMs also use software that creates specific sounds or sounds, along the lines of, “You hear this,” which can also be quite effective. Various RPG sound mixer programs, online sources, and apps exist that provide this experience. The right scoundscape can suggest specific locations of all sorts, such as being on a ship at sea, riding the bus, standing on top of a windy tower, and so on. Other GMs tell each player to pick a song that typifies their character, then adds those songs to a much larger playlist of songs. Then whenever that song comes up during play, the associated character gains a special bonus. Aren’t house rules grand? Miniatures As far as I’m concerned, miniatures are props. Props that some RPGS, like many editions of D&D, have pretty much required, but props all the same. If you never use miniatures, consider pulling some out for a particularly tactically important fight–it could be fun! For instance, I well remember the first few games I played where miniatures were …
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