I have never had enough of a theatrical streak to make much of props, costumes, lighting effects, “set” decoration, ambient music, or sound effects in my RPGs. The most I ever did was when running a freeform (LARP) at Sydcon ’98, when I asked the players to wear black, white, red, green, or blue according to which faction their character was in (few complied) and played Bob Dylan singing The Times, They Are A’Changin’ very loudly to signify the arrival of an Imperial Navy taskforce with an Intervention Act in its pocket.
Other people swear by a prop or two, a bit of moody lighting, appropriate background music, sound effects queued to play when cued, and perhaps a scarf or hat.
What’s your experience of this?
Even when I’m running Lovecraftian horror I don’t tend to do much in the way of handouts, which for some people are the core of the game.
I build playlists for most campaigns I run, but I use them for mood-setting while writing adventures and driving to the game rather than in the game.
I’ve used foam dart guns when running Paranoia…
No to background music. I have enough trouble hearing what players are saying without drowning them out with background audio clutter.
I like doing handouts, but don’t often have time to do them. Also the print shop within walking distance closed, so getting colour print-outs is now a pain in the backside.
Simon Burley introduced me to the concept of a colour photo/painting printed out and laminated - to say ‘The alien spaceship looks like this’ or ‘The bad guy is carrying one of these’. So I like doing that, but see print shop problems, above.
I hardly ever do physical props. I did make a spirit bundle for the shaman in Werewolf The Apocalypse once. It was made of real fur and the shaman player spent most of the time cuddling or stroking it…
I steal regularly from movie scores. But I try to use subtle things on background softly on repeat.
For a Star Wars game during undergraduate we kept a selection of tracks from the Unbreakable score as mood tones.
Kick-off music for a solo session or a new campaign is also a bit of kit I grab for regularly. Usually to back opening narration or to add kick to an in medias res “roll initiative.” I don’t like using that during an ongoing campaign unless episodes are quite thematic.
I have learned the hard way that “fight music” is a terrible idea and the timing never works and the impact is a distraction for some players.
I get annoyed enough by continual music in TV shows and movies without foisting it on my players, but the main reason I avoid it is that my brain doesn’t seem wired to shutting it out terribly well, with the result that I lose track of what the players are saying.
As we play mostly online these days props are none too useful, although everyone is perhaps in a better position to dress exactly as they like than if we were playing in a store as Whartson Hall used to.