Props to add flavor in any campaign

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W. R. Frady
Footman (Level 13)
2682 XP

One of the things that I have incorporated into my games to help set the scene and mood of the game is props. As a DM, GM, or CK (Castle Keeper for those who are not familiar with the Castles & Crusades role-playing game), I have found that it motivates the players to get out of the potato chip, pop-corn munching, soda drinking monotony and into their characters, as well as the gaming world itself by providing props to enhance the story. I know that many of the old adventure modules came with player handouts, but those only give a brief glimpse into what can really be done to bring the gaming world to life. While many of the general player handouts are great for their intended purpose, I have a list of other ideas that may add flavor to the gaming table.

1. Maps. I know, the adventure probably has a handout map, or you may have your characters building their own, but nothing beats a good weathered map as a handout, especially when it is coming from the person, place, or thing that is sending them on the quest. Maybe it is even the map of a long forgotten ruin that is locked away in an old treasure chest that the characters happen across. I'm sure that any hand drawn, or printed map would do just fine, but to add to the belief that the map is really old, try using homemade parchment, using printer paper, used wet tea bags, and the sunlight to dry the wet paper, or my personal favorite is to use the inside of a brown paper bag, or even the brown sketch paper and a good set of colored pens/pencils to draw the map. Then, by allowing the paper to tear in random places and let it get a little wrinkled, you can give it an aged look that will lend to the realism of the item when you hand it to them as part of the scene.

2. Coinage. Having coins for your game is a great way to play out treasure and rewards. When an NPC pays the party for a job well done, toss a sack full of random coins to each player, or to the lead character as a way of illustrating the event. Use the coins as a means for gambling when the characters are playing out a scene where they are having to beat an important NPC in a game of chance for valuable information. There are more ways to use this than I have room to list, so just get creative, your players will like the change,(No pun intended), and may get more involved in the scene than usual. If you don't want to use real money, the diving coins that are used for diving and snorkeling can usually be found either in your local department store during the early summer months, or online for a small price, and when combined with a leather dice bag or similar item will add just enough realism to the item to get the players involved.

3. Skulls, dragons, fantasy desk decor. Add a sense of the fantastic to the game table and the room, but do so with discretion, some people may not like you cluttering up their house, living room or dining room, with random stuff. It doesn't really matter what you do in your own home, mainly because you're the one who has to clean up the mess if things get crazy in your house. But by adding fantasy decor to the gaming area, you help to set the atmosphere for the game. If your players come in to see a figurine of a red dragon resting atop of a pile of treasure they might begin wondering if that is the course of the night's events. The fully open Castle Grayskull playset, from He-Man, sitting before the GM screen may invoke the images of a haunted castle when your characters enter The Keep on Skull Mountain, and so on.

4. Cards. Cards can help play out games of chance, reveal the fortunes told by an old gypsy, and so forth. A deck of many things can be assigned to various playing cards and handed to a player who finds the artifact, who can present the card as he or she uses them.

This is just a few items that can enhance the gaming experience and keep players talking about the experience for years. The idea is to get creative and involve your players on a personal level that spurs imagination and interaction. Once you get the players attention, you'll be surprised at how many times they will find themselves glancing at the map that was acquired by whatever means brought it into their possession, or how quickly they may jump into their roles and really role-play the scenes out. This is something I do in my games and has been successful in getting the players involved; give it a try once and tell me how it goes for you.

Thanks for reading.

I am a writer based in the foothills of North Carolina, specializing in Gothic Horror and Fantasy. Though I do play around with some Science Fiction.

Master (Level 23)
15757 XP

Thank you for your contribution, W.R. Frady! Concerning maps, my favorite DM had added a nice twist to them in his home-brew, low-magic campaign. He treated his world as having some of the same technical limitations of a quasi-medieval setting. Maps in his world were rare and generally inaccurate, especially as they became larger in scope. Generally, the only way to gain an "accurate" map was to pay dearly and to be sent on a special errand or quest. In some of the larger cities, special state-sponsored, map-making guilds would create these maps...with the aid of divination magic. In areas where the church generally held most of the power, scholar priests would create them. In either case, these secrets were held close and the maps were treated with the same respect as magic items.

An adventuring group would have to hold an adventuring charter (which could cost up to a thousand gold pieces and required the sponsorship of the Lord/Lady of the region) to acquire a good map (or maps) from the guild. Or you would need to be a devout follower and likely on a special errand from the Church. In any case, holding one without authorization, copying one, or mistreating one would be met with serious consequences (with the less-forgiving rulers revoking your charter, branding you a group of outlaws, and/or sending a bounty for your head). Even discovering one of these maps in a monster horde required that you return it to the local authorities. Of course, not everyone followed by the rules, and there was a black market for these items.

Why such a fuss over such a simple thing as a map? Because having an accurate map made things a WHOLE lot easier before you acquired more powerful magic. Inaccurate maps weren't always a bad thing (the smaller scale ones would at least get you in the general direction), but some could get you into serious trouble. And once you acquired a "legit" map, our DM would give the players a specially made prop map that certainly made an impression upon the group. It was funny to see the players carefully handle the prop itself! The uniqueness of the item and the prop increased our immersion.

The DM also loved to use symbol/badge/banner props to symbolize factions, holy symbols, groups, families, etc. Game of Thrones has illustrated how powerful a single heraldric symbol can be. So instead of just informing us "we'd come upon hobgoblin corpses," we may come across some badges or totems that they were wearing or carrying. Knowledge skills became essential towards investigating these tokens. And they served as mnemonic items to quickly identify future groups without having to constantly roll skill checks or ask "what are they wearing?"

Another thing I've wanted to experiment with is smells, since they are so closely associated with memories. And, to my surprise, scented props do exist! A company called Adventure Scents specializes in these items. You could experience the olfactory side of an ancient library, dank dungeon, rowdy tavern, or enchanted forest! I've even seen scented oils that supposedly "capture the essence" of character classes and alignments.

I'm curious if any other players have great experiences with certain props, or if they've tried any scented props.

W. R. Frady
Footman (Level 13)
2682 XP

That's awesome! I'd like to check out the scented props myself. Scents are keenly important to memory and association so would add even more flavor to the encounter or event, almost like burning Nag Champa incense while running a session that takes place in a Turkish-style bazaar, would bring the setting to life in the senses as well as the imagination. It's why I prefer hard copy books over digital as the smell of pages invoke memories as opposed to the cold unscented LCD display.

Sounds effects would also add a great sense of believability to the game world, like the crunch of leaves and maybe a stray twig underfoot, or the shuffle of something in the shadows just beyond the reach of the torchlight. Just some simple homemade Sound FX articles would do wonders for making the necessary items, though in all aspects, moderation is the key to making it work. Using the right sounds at the key points of an encounter and during the session would highlight the parts that would make the most of such additions. Overuse could prove disastrous, as it would begin to become more a distraction than an enhancement.

Thanks for sharing your experience with the maps, Truthseer. Homebrew worlds have the best touches for games, in my opinion anyway, as they can be modified to fit the style of play and the magic levels of the particular campaign that is being run. I love the published campaign settings as well especially the wide variety that was offered during the height of the AD&D 2nd edition era, but after building my own worlds, I can't seem to go back to Published Campaigns. There's just simply more freedom.

I am a writer based in the foothills of North Carolina, specializing in Gothic Horror and Fantasy. Though I do play around with some Science Fiction.

Champion (Level 24)
16068 XP

I love props!

But you guys have taken it to the next lvl... seriously. I have seen and worked on maps and handmade spellbooks but scents... wooo...

This will turn out to a great thread.

Thanks for sharing!

I have a whip of banning (+3magic) and I 'm not afraid to use it!

    *I am bluffing*

Captain (Level 20)
11529 XP

Great ideas, folks!

I bought some hand-made paper in various hues of off-white, yellow and brown, and have used it since for maps and letters. The paper is tough, almost cloth-like, and doesn't ruin quite as easily as more "modern" stuff. For staining, I prefer a strong Assam brew (strong enough to wake up the dead, left to cool and evaporate for a day).

I've also used leftover paper from cashiers' tills as bird-carried or hidden scrolls. Any nearby store will probably have spent spools of receipt paper that they're happy to get rid of!

While I use background music and visual aids routinely, I haven't really gotten the hang of using a soundboard for effects. I played in a couple of Iron Age Pendragon campaigns where the GM put in sound effects casually and to great effect, and I'd love to not be too lazy to learn that skill... x)

Sometimes our groups have players volunteering to manage background music and to search for appropriate images and put them up on display. That's always nice, but has been pretty inconsistent.

As a rule, I prefer to keep things in the theatre of the mind as much as possible, but sometimes a good prop is hard to pass up - and anything that makes things clearer for the group is always a good thing!

Has anybody tried out those scent props since last posting?

A committed user and abuser of roleplaying games. Based in Oulu, Finland.

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W. R. Frady
Footman (Level 13)
2682 XP

Not yet, but I am planning on getting a few once the Christmas shopping is done. I don't know which ones I will start with, so I may see of Adventure Scents offers a sampler set that I can start with.

I am a writer based in the foothills of North Carolina, specializing in Gothic Horror and Fantasy. Though I do play around with some Science Fiction.