Using props for your game can be a great way to break down the barrier between the real and unreal. Brainstorming on prop ideas can be a real challenge though. Whether you are on a tight budget or a huge money spender this guide will assist your search by providing various prop ideas from other gamers.
Before you begin your search for prop choices, it is a good idea to ask your group first. Communicate with your group and see how they feel about using props for their campaign. There are some players who may prefer not having certain props as they feel they are too much a distraction. On the Story-Games forum members discussed whether props were a good idea in RPGs. One member, Mease19, stated, “I’m all for props as props, things to inspire and create ambiance. This includes mocked up documents/maps or items to act as tokens or placeholders. As for outside objects as mechanisms in the game, totally a case-by-case basis.”
Once you get the confirmation to bring props to the game, you can begin to look around for fun ideas. Many great game props do not have to be expensive and some can be found in a local dollar store. You can even create your own.
Great sources to look through are gamer websites. On the DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) Role Players site, Stan Shinn invited discussion on how gamers can create their own science-fiction props. The author provides links for props such as figure flats and stands, map printing, star ship artwork, and a Firefly sandbox tool kit PDF to create stories.
On the Roleplaying Tips site, Game Master Johnn Four provides helpful advice on the use of props and types of props gamers can use. His site lists 27 prop ideas that include puzzles, tarot cards, scrolls, board game pieces, dry ice, books, takards/goblets, candles, musical instruments, hour glass, scarves, and origami.
Additionally on forums fellow gamers can share their prop choices with others and whether they have been successful or not. On RPG Stacks, they bring up prop questions such as whether props help further the game along or slow it down and the practicality of certain props.
One of the members, Melon, stated, “Generally in my experience, props that will actively help the PC’s keep track of things (maps, notes/letters discovered, riddles and the like) are extremely useful. They give us something to mull over as a group, refer to if we’ve forgotten a plot point or why we’re doing something, etc. However, you do need to be careful that the props have some purpose.”
Another hot topic on the forums focused on the use of weapons. Many voiced their opinion that gamers should NOT bring actual weapons as tempers are known to flare and someone might accidentally slice someone’s hand off rather than in the game. What’s your opinion on them?
Here are some ideas to share:
Music can help players feel immersed in the game and adds a bit of heightened drama to the experience. Like a good ol’ pirate jaunty to enhance a seagoing campaign. On the Tabletop Audio site gamers can find the right audio piece for their game. The site states that it contains, “Original, 10 minute ambiances and music for your tabletop role-playing games.” On the r/RPG sub-Reddit there is a thread on playlist suggestions for tabletop gamers.
Similarly gamers can use sound effects in addition to music for the campaign environment.
Members on RPG Geek have recommended sites such as Softrope. The Sounscape mixer is a free downloadable beta that is simple and allows you to input your own sounds and mix them together to make modules for your specific scene. For example, if you want to create a scene of a ship at sea, you input the sounds you want to use like sea gulls, waves lapping, and sails floating in the air, you put them all together to make a complex scene with multiple sounds. However, the downside to the beta is that its too simple; you don’t get much opportunity to tweak the sound waves the way you want. Also, the software requires you to find your own individual sounds to use. It doesn’t have a library for you to play with.
Another option you can try is Platemail Games:
“Plate Mail Games creates high quality professional background loops and adventuring hook PDFs for your role-playing games. The goal is to enhance your tabletop role-playing experience with ambient soundscapes and great plot hooks. Plate Mail Games is also developing a streamlined role-playing game that combines both fast-paced cinematic action with strong story telling arcs” (Plaitmail Bio).
The site allows you the option of purchasing sounds to use for your games based on themes such as Pulp/Steampunk, Scifi, Fantasy, Superhero, Historical, and Horror. Sounds on the site will range from 5-10 minute loops and are $1.50 each. Plate Mail also offers users the option of bundle packs that price wise can range from $8.50 to $90. You can test the sounds out and play them on Plaitmail, but to purchase them you will be sent to the RPG Now site to order.
Keep in mind that other gamers may not want music or sound effects for the campaign. Gamers opposed argue that the props can make it difficult for players to concentrate, especially if the DM is constantly shuffling tracks, or the music loops during a protracted battle. RPG Geek brings a good discussion debate on this topic on a few of their forums.
What sites would you recommend for campaign music or sound effects? Any songs that you’ve used for your campaign? What do you believe are the pros and cons to using these for gaming?
You don’t have to LARP to enjoy having wearable items that fit the theme of your game. Choosing the right clothing or accessory can enhance your game and get you into character. Many of these items can be found in your local thrift shop. Jeffrey Lee, in his article on props, writes, “Thrift stores are another great place to look for props. Standards like Goodwill and the Salvation Army are great places to look.” Any big department store like Target or Walmart will generally have some fun tacky jewelry or accessories that you can quickly retool for the adventure – like a representation of a hard-won treasure trove.
For the more serious players who have a heavy interest in cosplay, there are many available online stores to help. One source you can start with is RolePages, “where you will find a variety of costumes, accessories, props, decorations, and makeup pieces which can help to turn you into any character, creature, figure, or theme that you can imagine.” Museum Replicas is another site players can use for those interested in Medieval themes.
You don’t have to wear a costume, of course! Some campaign groups will do costumes and others prefer not to. Talk to your group members to see if they have an interest in wearing costumes for their character, or mind if you do. Gamers on the RPG Stack Exchange forum discuss their personal reasons for why they wear or don’t wear costumes. The forum provides good arguments for both sides.
What are your thoughts? If you enjoy wearing clothing and accessories for the game, do you have any good recommendations of where to get them?
Gamers will sometimes use their laptops to display digital images to give others a physical view for their campaign. Most will use Photoshop, Google Images, or Powerpoint to procure and manipulate these images.
On Giant Tip, one of the members, Traveler, stated they tried “to make a ‘movie’ trailer for the campaign with Microsoft PowerPoint using some fantasy art, bold words, and some music to hold it all together.”
Be bold. Put your technological brain to good use. Check out this crazy awesome game table built by Sean Pecor over at the GamerGroup.com! Project a map, grid it out for you battlemap fiends, and away you go!
Any gamers out there use digital media for their props? What kinds of props in that area do you use and how?
Food is a delicious way for gamers to feel immersed. Gamers on both forums and blogs recommend the use of them. Roleplaying Tips explains having players sniff out the right herb/ingredient for a spell or potion can be a good task. Naturally, most herbs can be found at your local supermarket but you might want to ensure no one is allergic before you start shoving herbs in their face!
I researched a few sites that provide recipes for gamers to make for their campaign:
Geekosystem – “The +5 Food of Eating RPG Cookbook Will Make Your Adventures Delicious”
DriveThruRPG – Food Cookbooks
Buzzfeed – Zombie Themed Treats
The Fourteenth Fleet – Star Trek Food Stuff
Gode Cooking – Medieval Recipes
Tor – Science Fiction Cuisine
The Geeky Chef – “Recipes Inspired By Books, Movies, Television and Video Games”
Metafilter – Call of Cthulhu. H.P. Lovecraft-themed foods
Wikidot – RPG Mixed Drinks
What recipes do you recommend? If you prefer a personal review of some of these recipes or have your own review of them, post your thoughts. We’ll have a potluck game night soon here at the Saving Throw HQ. Results to be posted.
Even something as simple as a handwritten scroll or an aged map can make a difference in the mood setting of a game. On gamer forums I found a few recipes to help age documents. I haven’t tested them out so if any have tested them as a success or failure let me know.
If anyone has any suggestions of other prop ideas to help enhance the game, share them!
Photos courtesy of Tiago Hackbarth, Michael Newhouse, Chris Zielecki, Russell Davies, Danielle_blue, and Linda Hartley via Flickr.