What props and special effects do you use while running games?

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
I'm a big user of sound effects and music, both live and in the games I run on Discord. I've bought a bunch of Michael Ghelfi's work on Bandcamp (better returns to artists than other music stores), but his work is also available on YouTube.

Although I've yet to run Curse of Strahd, and it doesn't seem likely to happen in the foreseeable future, I picked up a Tarokka deck to use in conjunction with Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft and have been toying with picking up a spirit board on Etsy for the same purpose. And by the time the Book of Many Things comes out, I will have a Deck of Many Things from there as well. (I suspect the WotC deck will have a definite created-by-a-committee feel that isn't what I want from my dangerous artifacts.)

And now I'm toying with D&D scented candles, for things like dungeons and taverns. (Eat your heart out, Yankee Candle.)

I've found props and special effects add a lot to my games -- my daughter specifically reminded me to fire up the sound effects when I ran her through a solo game recently -- but they are an extra level of something to fiddle with.

Does anyone else do this? What stuff has worked best for you?

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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Well, beyond things like cast or carved architectural minis, etc., I’m most likely to use music. Sometimes, it’s just music the group likes, sometimes it’s stuff from genre fiction TV shows & movies.

OCCASIONALLY, I’ll actually use music to represent in-game events. My best ever use was when I used the theme to The Hunted (by Kodo) to signal the beginnings of the party actually being hunted. It was interesting to see the players react as if they were actually in jeopardy, even the ones who were not usually immersive gamers.

 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
OCCASIONALLY, I’ll actually use music to represent in-game events. My best ever use was when I used the theme to The Hunted (by Kodo) to signal the beginnings of the party actually being hunted. It was interesting to see the players react as if they were actually in jeopardy, even the ones who were not usually immersive gamers.

That tune would definitely do it.
 

Tutara

Adventurer
Notes, parchment, sealed letters, propaganda fliers, a tourist brochure… mostly paper items. I also rigged up a persistent bounty board for a campaign once. I used music on roll 20 but less so in real life.

I’d recommend avoiding ambient candles - authentic smells of the era might sound immersive, but in practice it’s pretty bogging. I can definitively tell you that ‘Star Wars Trash Compactor’ as a scent is a bad time.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Does anyone else do this? What stuff has worked best for you?
I seldom user music; even then, it's usually the players and I singing together when I do. Explanation spoilered, as it may be a distraction from the topic...
I absolutely avoid any and all atmospheric music - it interferes with my ability to understand players. (I can still hear 20 kHz buzz, but cannot make out conversation of tenors and altos (90-200 Hz) at 60-65 dB against a typical 35-45 dB background music.)
I don't like players needing to go above 65 dB, preferring 55-60 dB.

And I absolutely cannot abide "ASMR" noises. A whispered commercial literally enrages me - there's one Youtube keeps feeding... I IMMEDIATELY hit the back button, as it's just shy of pain sensation
.

So what does work for me? I have used trek and star wars sound boards. My players have, with my blessings, used ST:TOS ornament communicators and tricorders as props. I have, on a few occasions, cut out paper ones, but that's decades ago. I'd use foam core these days. And some small magnets and sewing pins.

I've done entire fonts for making counters for star wars and star trek ships. I'm considering redoing them as color OTF fonts...

I have, for one Trek campaign, where the captain was an NPC, done the captains logs using a TTS routine.

I used Sketchup to "film" a crawl text for a star wars one-shot.

I wrote a theme for an Edge of the Empire campaign. Youtube took it down... more than 8 years after I uploaded it. (Man, has it really been that long? Uhh... Yup.) They took it down last month. (It's the only one missing of the 6 I've made.) And they didn't say why. My players both appreciated and despised it.

I've used 3d walkthroughs in Traveller, done in Sketchup. I even used the model to show a player why his character couldn't shoot a particular NPC.

I used Playmobil knights to set the tone for a particular Pendragon group... after a few sessions, my daughter got to play with them instead. (Playmobil has some cool knights!)
 

ThrorII

Explorer
I am currently running a Wild West game using "Wild West Cinema". I use:
1. Ambient music
2. Ambient sounds (wagons, town sounds, horses, trains, etc).
3. I print out a 1-page "newspaper" for the Wild West Town each session that acts as a game recap, plot hook, and NPC knowledge.
 



I use music regularly, typically putting together a 4 hour set of songs / music suitable for the genre. I have many playlists labeled “fantasy’, ‘weird scifi’, ‘deadlands’ or the like. I tend to use mostly soundtracks from films, but throw in the odd vocal song also.

handouts and props are great for adding genre tone. I recently played in a game set in the 80’s and the GM used a printer that created mini-Polaroid photos for the NPCs — it really emphasized the period more than a simple printer photo would have. Other GMs have done things like hand out old video tape boxes containing character info or items like that. These have been uniformly evocative and fun.

one thing I do on an irregular basis is use a unique found object or something I’ve created and incorporate it into the game. These take some effort so I don’t do it every session, but some examples are:
  • I wrote a clue in ink on a piece of paper and froze it in a block of ice and gave it to my players. They had fun trying to break it open without destroying the note. This was for a 1800’s horror game set in a blizzard
  • I salvaged a piece of machinery with lots of wires from a broken appliance and taped it under the table for my Dracula Dossier spy game. At the critical point I revealed the fact and the players had to cut the right wires (using character knowledge/skills) without dislodging it
  • For the finale to my D&D 4E game, I built a small table and decorated it like a flying island (one of the players had the ability to build such a thing) and started the game at one end of our house. As the characters flew the island into the Far Realms, we moved the island through the house, where I had hidden various enemies and opposition around the place. If the players spotted anything, the characters got a bonus.
as you can see, with props I like mix player skill with character ability. I find that works well in building a memorable session
 

payn

Legend
I am really looking forward to the Bladerunner KS arriving. The handouts for the investigation sound like a lot of fun!

For Foundry, I am having a lot o fun making journals to pass to the players. They can look these tidbits up anytime on their own instead of me (the GM) having to constantly refresh.
 


Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Notes, parchment, sealed letters, propaganda fliers, a tourist brochure… mostly paper items.
I've gotten some "parchment" and printed out maps and wanted posters. My players went nuts for them -- way more than I would have expected.

As a result, I'll be using tickets and such for my Witchlight Carnival games.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
Egg timer, just something to make my players think/feel there is a time limit. It keeps them moving and thinking. I don't know what I am ever going to do if the alarm goes off. :rolleyes: ;)
I have a jumbo d20 I pull out specifically for the boss fights, just to communicate, via a prop, "oh, it's about to get real." Everyone has now learned to get excited when it hits the dice tray.
 
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Whizbang Dustyboots

100% that gnome
I use an app called Diva, which imports YouTube video audio. I have been unable to find a similar app to work off my hard drive or Bandcamp, unfortunately, although it appears such apps existed in the past.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Things I can print, mostly. Letters, printed documents, note they can find on an enemy revealing clues... Maps, of course.
Out of session, the press often speaks about their adventures, and reveals some clues about what is to come and a few background world information. I do that for my own fun but several players have printed the newspaper pages, so I guess it was appreciated. It's more appropriate for world where there are indeed newspapers.
 


edosan

Explorer
Handouts are always enjoyable - I made a newspaper for out Dragon Heist game with clues, side quests, and showing the consequences of their past misadventures.

I’m prepping Curse of Strahd as well so I also bought a Tarokka deck but I wish you used it more than once in the campaign. I saw an ad for this “Adventurer’s Tarot” so I’m thinking about getting that to try some sort of deck based initiative system.

I‘ve done the gamut of minis/battle maps/papercraft terrain but now that we play at work I’m using a big wall mounted touchscreen which everyone seems to love (thanks, Owlbear Rodeo!)

I‘d like to incorporate music and sound effects in my game more for sure.
 

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