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Creating a More Immersive D&D Experience

When the GM puts in the effort to create a game session for your party, and everyone makes time in their busy lives to show up, you might as well make the most of the occasion. Setting the scene for your game and creating a space where you can relax can help immerse you in the experience. Whether you prefer to create an atmosphere that suggests the setting of your game, or choose to focus on the fact that you are hanging out with your friends for a few hours, you can find little ways to make it special.


Music
I like playing music in the background during games. It creates a nice ambiance and can set the tone for the action. I know some GMs carefully curate an array of playlists with music for every mood and setting, switching between them as needed, but I am nowhere near that level yet.

Fortunately, streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora (or even YouTube) are full of playlists other people already have created. They usually are stocked with scores from movies and video games, and maybe some medieval or Renaissance-style music in the mix. There's a whole niche market of people who write music specifically for use in RPGs, including artists such as Midnight Syndicate or Kevin MacLeod. Look up those names and let the recommendation algorithm introduce you to hundreds of hours of game-appropriate music. You also can round out your playlists with ambient tracks of sound effects including gentle rain or thunderstorms, daytime bird calls, night time crickets, the sound of waves, or Halloween-style ghostly noises and howls.

Decor and Lighting
Not everyone has the space, budget, or desire to dedicate a whole space to gaming. But when it's game night, you can always break out a few extra items with your dice and other equipment. You can add subtle touches like a tablecloth that sets the mood, or light candles in the room. You don't even have to use real candles if you're worried about open flames and excess heat -- LED candles look great, many have a natural-looking flickering setting, and some are even remote controlled.

To add an easy faux-medieval touch to the table, serve drinks in steins and goblets. You can find plenty of attractive options for sale, but some are only meant to be decorative, so make sure you buy ones that are made from food-safe materials if you're going to use them. They're perfect for ale and wine, of course, but there's nothing stopping you from drinking iced tea out of a bejeweled chalice if you want to.
If you are inclined to add more elaborate or permanent decor, you have a lot of options too. You can buy wall-mounted LED torch sconces, tapestries, or even fantasy creature models. WizKids has produced a line of these which so far includes a red dragon head, a mindflayer head, and a very impressive beholder. They're not cheap, and can be tricky to hang (particularly the beholder, which has to be mounted in the ceiling), but they are a lot of fun.

View attachment 98261
I DM Adventurer's League inside this beholder's anti-magic cone every Wednesday night at my shop.​

Snacks
Honestly, what's a party without snacks? Gathering people together to enjoy food is one of society's oldest bonding rituals. Plenty of people bring their own individual snacks, and that's fine, but you could take it a step further if everyone wants to. You can approach it as a dinner with friends, even if you're just sharing a pizza, or go the themed menu route with imaginary tavern classics. One of these days, I'm going to serve stew in homemade bread bowls at one of my games. But that's a lot of work, so you could choose a simpler option and serve charcuterie and cheese trays, fruit, and fresh bread. Or just make nachos -- the point is to make it a fun experience for the group.

Scented Products
Scent is a major sensory trigger that can create a lot of atmosphere with a little whiff. Now there are scented products on the market that are designed specifically for use in RPG scene-setting. They come in forms such as candles, sachets, or pots of scented beads you can place on your game table. Some are subtle scents intended to produce a general mood, but others are very specific. You can find incense-tinged scents meant to evoke a temple or ritual, or the scent of a forest or ocean, a campfire or tavern, but you also can find more esoteric varieties such as alchemist's lab or ancient library, and less pleasant aromas like dungeon, swamp, or moldy crypt...if you think that's something your party would appreciate. Which leads to an extremely important caveat on this item:

Many people cannot tolerate exposure to scented products! Allergies are common and can be very serious. Your game isn't going to be much fun if it comes to a grinding halt when a player fails a real-life CON save against a scented item. It could cause everything from sneezing or a sore throat to a migraine, asthma attack or worse. Therefore, I strongly recommend getting explicit consent from everyone who will be in the area before using such a product. Even if you think the scent isn't that strong, it might have a big impact on someone who is sensitive to it.

Do you have any favorite game time mood setters? Want to share a recipe? Tell me about it in the comments! (And let me know if you want to see recipes in future columns, because that's one of my specialties.)

contributed by Annie Bulloch
 

Comments

Annie Bulloch

First Post
What color is that? I’m no interior designer, but I love the idea.
The floor has vivid blue tile. The room is shaped like a long rectangle. The short wall at one end is a charcoal gray -- that's where the big TV is mounted, and the dark color makes it easier to look at the screen when it's on. The long walls are a lighter, silvery gray color, and the opposite short wall(s) around the restroom and soda machine are the same yellow we used in some areas of the sales floor. We have a lot of art and such on the walls too. Overall it helps it feel warm instead of sterile and oppressive.
 

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Yaarel

Adventurer
Do you guys feel that props add to the immersion or deter from it? Play money / coins / gems, keys, a model chest or coffer, hand-made player handouts, etc...
In my experience, reallife props create a kind of minigame within the game. They break immersion, but in a controlled way, that after the minigame, allows easy reentry into the immersive game.

It is somewhat like entering into a theater-of-the-mind casino, playing a reallife game of 21s (Blackjack), then after this minigame, continuing with some adventure intrigue in the theater-of-the-mind casino.

The props are nonimmersive, but alternating between immersive and minigames can work.
 


mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
Speaking as the DM...

MUSIC

I'm not big on this. It's very difficult for me not to filter out the background sounds while I'm working to weave my tale. I find it distracting, and it doesn't seem to add to my game the way it does to others. Something ambient without words isn't so bad, but I don't spend time picking music for scenes or sessions.

DECOR AND LIGHTING

I'm huge on candles! Dim the lights, gather close, and illuminate like we're dungeon-diving. Truly works like a charm!

SNACKS

Good food and good libations. Always.

SCENTED PRODUCTS

I'm an allergy sufferer with super sensitive skin. I don't do scented anything other than my deodorant. Ever.

:)

Maintaining a map behind the screen is most helpful for me in terms of luring the players in and transporting them into the story. I use it to inform my descriptions of what they see, hear, and experience, and I find it works far better than placing a map in front of them.
 

Videogame soundtracks do tend to have the right mix of moods for gaming, definitely. For our group’s fight with Demogorgon, I put on the Bloodborne soundtrack. Songs like this one kept everyone’s, ahem, blood, pumping:

[video=youtube;NHIkUzmNmc0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHIkUzmNmc0[/video]

Gaming soundtracks like those for Baldurs Gate or Diablo II work really well.
 

I use a combination of music and randomized sound effects. The two combine very well together to create an immersive experience. I also tend to have some sound effects on standby just in case I want to spook my players.

Because I am running a pirate campaign, I usually hang a big pirate flag in the room, and set the mood by playing classic pirate shanties before we start the session.
 

practicalm

Explorer
Maybe it is an age thing but I find too much music distracting.
I've tried with different audio effects but it can be hard to hear everyone.
 

Maybe it is an age thing but I find too much music distracting.
I've tried with different audio effects but it can be hard to hear everyone.
That's why I tend to pick music that is not too intrusive. The Thief 1, 2 and 3 soundtracks for example, are great for setting a subtle mood without distracting too much from the table.
 

ART!

Adventurer
If I'm running I can't have any music playing louder that quiet background music, because my hearing is not the best and when combined with my ADD can make it very hard to focus on what the players are saying.

But I love the idea! ;)

I might have to get in on that flagons and tankards idea for drinks at the table. A wood-framed DM screen would be a cool, atmospheric thing.
 

I almost forgot, but I once created a physical prop of a treasure map for my pirate campaign. The reason I made it, was because the prop had a secret that required the players to fold it in a specific way, to uncover the real location of the treasure. It looked pretty amazing. I used coffee stains to make the map look aged.

 
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Li Shenron

Legend
Maybe it is an age thing but I find too much music distracting.
I've tried with different audio effects but it can be hard to hear everyone.
Speaking as the DM...

MUSIC

I'm not big on this. It's very difficult for me not to filter out the background sounds while I'm working to weave my tale. I find it distracting, and it doesn't seem to add to my game the way it does to others. Something ambient without words isn't so bad, but I don't spend time picking music for scenes or sessions.
Yes, Ambient music (e.g. Brian Eno) is the most appropriate to create a background feel without drawing attention or distracting from the game.
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
Yes, Ambient music (e.g. Brian Eno) is the most appropriate to create a background feel without drawing attention or distracting from the game.
For myself, even ambient music is distracting. (I danced professionally for 10 years after high school. Maybe that contributes to the experience of any and all music/sound sucking me right in and away from all else? Never really thought about it.)

:)
 

Annie Bulloch

First Post
For myself, even ambient music is distracting. (I danced professionally for 10 years after high school. Maybe that contributes to the experience of any and all music/sound sucking me right in and away from all else? Never really thought about it.)

:)
At one game I'm in, a playlist they use includes pieces from Mozart's Requiem. I know that music back and forth thanks to high school choir competitions back in the mists of history. So far I've managed to resist singing along, but I can't stop myself from tapping along to the beat unconsciously. That's how my gaming group found out I used to sing competitively!

Music can be distracting if it's too loud, and I recognize that some people don't like it at all. Just like with scented products, it's always good to poll your group and make sure everyone is okay with whatever you're doing.
 

Diane Hicks

First Post
Currently using:
- Spotify playlists for background music: action, eerie, background, etc
- Syrinscape for specific noises and scenes: taverns, markets, travelling through woods, spell sounds, wolf howls, storms etc
- Campaign Coins for party funds
- handmade handouts for scrolls, messages, stuff they find etc.


Loving the crafty fun, and I think the music and sound effects are just enough to really help the atmosphere, without taking over.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Maybe it is an age thing but I find too much music distracting.
I've tried with different audio effects but it can be hard to hear everyone.
It can be a real problem if one or more players is participating online, too. It's hard enough keeping them engaged if there's any table talk going on.
 

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