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What props or other immersive things have GMs used that were cool?

Nick Phoenix

Villager
I try and add cool immersive props for my games. I always want to go bigger and cooler to know the players' socks off. I will just go through a few things I have done. I'd like to hear what you have done or what your game master has done that you thought were just awesome.

My first session GMing I had a specific piece of music set up for a point in the story where I lured the players into a trap. The players were betrayed, the dungeon was collapsing, a mountain was rising beneath them, they had to solve a Rubix cube to escape, all as "Revival" by Neil Davidge (Halo 4 soundtrack) played to climax. I also had miniatures to knock over, and color changing lights to cycle during the sequence. I think this helped lure my players into coming back for more.

I like to use specific "epic" pieces of music from Audiomachine or any of the other results from searching for "epic" on Youtube or Amazon Music.

I had a recurring NPC, Hashnuk, who would go back and forth between betraying the party, helping the party, etc. After he was presumed dead for a few sessions he suddenly reappeared, or at least his head did. I produced a painted, life size paper-machete head complete with fake beard, hat, and flashing eyes. Well, it was a clockwork replica of Hashnuk.

Then I found a projector at a pawn shop for $25. This was used to project moving gifs I collected off the internet. My favorite was the actively flaming hands that I projected on the wall as a warning.

I found a Dragon Strike game at a thrift store, I painted the dragon to be a little more realistic. When it was introduced, we were using miniatures and a map with only two paths past the dragon. When the players started to cross the map, I pressed a button on the dragon and it started to swing it's head around wildly. Player miniatures that were knocked over ended up having to recover from falling into water to continue. The swinging of the dragon's head brought "Ooos" and "Ahhhs".

Okay, now hit me with what you've got!
 

sam585

Villager
I have not used anything so grand, mostly I stick to things like crumpled notes, hand scrawled maps, and lots of miniatures. I am probably going to start adding background music now!
 
I use thematic background music, which I fairly regularly change during a session (so there are battle themes, city themes, special scene music, etc). I also like to show art from the sourcebooks I use to my players at appropriate times (we play online so I create “maps” that are just blank backgrounds with images I can reveal). Also, I always show the players a background image thematic to (not necessarily representative of) the location they are currently at as the display they are looking at.

I can’t think of any other major things I do outside of normal VTT stuff, but for online play having the audio and video immersion is crucial for me. When I’m a player if it isn’t there I have a hard time staying focused, and I’m the most focused player in my group!

I would do more if I there were more I could think of to do without too much trouble.
 

Stormonu

Hero
I love my Ravenloft, so when the players reach Strahd's old castle, I turn the LED lights to a soft blue, fire up the (electric) candlabras and play Saberwulf's theme (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCAK3bwOGx0)

I've also done numerous handouts, and in one game, handed out a pendant etched with a octopus - it turned out the villain (a servant of eldritch horrors) was using it to track the party...

 

aramis erak

Explorer
I tend not to do props, and I don't do music, as music results in me needing to read lips. (and no, not due to age; been that way since my teens.)

I do often do place cards showing character names. My current Star Trek ones show name, rank, rank insignia, species, apparent gender, and assignment. My L5R ones? Name, meaning of name, type of character, and (when known) the Kanji.

I put some useful data on the backs. STA? SHip, runabout, and Type 9 stats for using ship-assisted rolls.
L5R? Listing the categories of honor awards, which is double and which is half value.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
I don't use props, but showmanship has it's place. AngryGM's tension pool is a great example and a great tool.

I am also helping one of my kids build a playlist for his bard so he can rock theme music for his skills (and a bunch of specific spells), so I'm obviously not locked into the old-school mentality all the way. So far it's a very 80's playlist, and it's really awesome. He started off singing Celtic standards a capaella, so I'll take the 80's thing every time.

I also draw maps and occasionally print letters and other documents to give to players. I guess I just stop short of LARPing out and scattering faux coins on the table and dressing in a lot of gothy black leather and twirling my villain mustache. I'll save that costume for other hobbies. ;)
 

John Dallman

Villager
Documents make good props, in general. One can't get parchment these days, but there are parchment-finish papers in art supply shops. Generating documents in an appropriate font, and aging them a bit via soaking in tea and drying them while a bit crumpled gets good results. Tear off corners and add ink-blots to taste. One of my GURPS group recently had the rest of us apply signatures to a document for her separate LARP group, simply to get a wider variety of handwriting.

A separate use of props is to reassure players that they're on the right track. An AD&D 1e scenario about a diplomatic conference some years ago abruptly turned into a murder-and-impersonation mystery. The DM then handed out pre-generated worksheets for solving the impersonation problem, providing considerable confidence that we weren't barking up the wrong tree.
 
In one of my 20 man raids, one of the teams were on a sky-boat previously used as a booze cruise. They had the option to turn four kegs into molotov-cocktails to help the other teams, but I also pulled out four bottles of Delicious Italian Soda, and told them they had the option to drink them instead. They chose to turn two into bombs, drink two, and I gave the remaining two bottles to the DM's.
 

uzirath

Explorer
When I had a great deal more time on my hands, I used to go all out trying to set the gaming ambiance for my long-running GURPS fantasy campaign. We used only fire to light the room: a fireplace, huge collection of candles, and occasional oil lamps. (One of our players was our chief candle hunter, finding crappy old candles at garage sales and whatnot to add to the collection.) I used an audio mixer to manage three soundtracks: background music, ambient sound (usually related to current weather or environmental sounds), and special effects (a loud clang, a bellowing monster, explosions, etc.). I also used fairly simple tea-soaked-handouts and other similar things.

One thing my group really liked was when I would create physical representations of objects in a treasure hoard. This wasn't about trying to recreate the objects, but just to have things they could manipulate while sorting through the items. So if they opened a chest, I would give them a smaller box. Inside would be objects with tags attached that helped describe them. So I might have had a stick with a post-it saying that it was an ebony wand, a spice jar described as a glittering powder in a vial, a rolled up piece of parchment for a scroll, some loose change to represent coins, etc.

Ultimately, I came to realize that the amount of time I invested was unsustainable without a co-GM (or more than one). Now I usually play some background music, use miniatures, and occasionally print a handout in a funny font on parchment-style paper.
 
The one I'm most proud of was a crumble vellum diary in a D&D campaign. An NPC traveling with the group had been with them for years but was actually a polymorphed dragon they'd screwed over long ago. and by "screwed over" I mean "tortured and sold to an evil wizard for experiments."

Due to some planar travel time differentials the party ended up absent from the prime material plane for about 30 years. In that time the dragon had escaped, killed the wizard, aged into more of a bad ass, and enhanced it's skills using the wizard's resources. When it heard they were back it joined up and tagged along on adventures, mostly playing it straight and waiting for an opportunity to screw them over.

Fast forward about a year of play time. I'd been keeping an electronic journal for him since day one. It was riddled with tales of their adventures, snide comments, examples of every time he'd pulled their fat out of the fryer, and more. My favorite quote was calling the drunken master monk a "rumsicle" after she'd been turned to ice by a variant basilisk.

eventually, while running a 3.5e port of Dragon Mountain, they killed a big bad dragon and took its hoard. That much gold and magic was more than their "friend" could resist. He fire balled the weakened party using the Subdual spell feat (so he could scry on their faces later). He scooped up everything into a bag of holding, dropped him journal to rub it in their faces, and teleported away.

In between that session and the next I printed out the journal on yellowed paper, baked it for a little while to singe the edges, and painstakingly crumpled and uncrumpled it. Doing that with thicker stock paper smooths the texture and makes it feel a lot more like vellum. The next session I delivered it and sat back to watch them read it. It was great. :D

Eventually they found the dragon and killed him, of course. He'd retaken Dragon Mountain for himself, so they all got to go through that wringer again. It was very interesting watching a party of 14th - 16th level characters struggle along with a bare minimum of magic items and money for a while. And he got to sit back and watch it all.
 
  • Player Guides - I have created player guides for the realm my players are visiting. The guides range from the philandering bard that really just talks about his romantic trysts to government documents that are outlining the area for a court meeting. The player guides always give details regarding culture and quests within the area, sometimes they talk about the primary story.
  • Minis... love my minis
  • Maps - I use pre-bought as I am terrible at drawing
  • Music - I have found all the Elder Scroll soundtracks very good if in the background; Witcher 3 is decent but can be overpowering, same is true for Conan the Barbarian and Pirates.
  • Puzzles - Have handed players a real puzzle, chains that need to be separated, blocks put together, etc. and that was their task as undead continually attacked the party until the portal (puzzle) was closed. Jenga was also used to simulate the destruction of the land as they were helping a Titan fight another Titan.
  • Props - Drinking mugs, hats, etc just for the fun of it
  • Pub - I have played in a pub quite a few times and it has always been kind of fun (played in movie lines and concert lines too). The change in scenery is sometimes significant to the game.
  • Not me but a friend GM uses the same song to start out each adventure. It's Pavlovian and an awesome idea!
  • Food and Drinks - Have definitely created a menu based on where the players are at: bread with sage and rosemary, skewers, and pickled cactus for a desert area.

Looking at this I feel like I'm bragging. So please know that many of these are one time things; basically tools in the back pocket to use during a climax, important RP session, etc. Except minis of course... must have more minis...
 

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
I was invited to DM my younger brother's group.

Not only did they want to experience how I DM, they also wanted to try something different.

So I created a playlist on iTunes from tracks from various film scores.

I played this in the background, and I adjusted the tempo of the session to match the music.

If the music suggested a battle, guess what, a random monster appeared, and the battle lasted as long as the track being played. I knew most of the music good enough to know when it was about to end. And surprisingly, the monster had enough HP to last just that long.

If the music suggested some horror, I played upon that. Telling the players of a whispering wind, floor boards creaking and groaning, an owl hooting, etc.

One player got so freaked out, he swore that if I ever played music again during a session, he was out of there.

< HA Ha ha >

* * ***

Most games, I use the cards from the TSR Wizard/Cleric spells as a quick reference for those of NPCs, and those the players have stated they have ready.

I also use the TSR collector card sets (from the 90's) and show the players a picture of what the are facing without revealing the name of the creature/monster.

I just wished the artwork was better, and that they would have been more cards, as they did not included everything in the various sources available.

ie. If I wanted to do module B2, I should have been able to pull out and match all the monsters and treasure within the module.
 

zztong

Explorer
Years ago, WOTC was selling a really big Dragon miniature. The advertisement featured a battle mat with a bunch of player miniatures attack a real-life pineapple. The idea being that it was a bummer not to have an epic dragon on the board for your epic dragon fight.

I, on the other hand, took it as a goal to write an adventure where the climax would be a battle with some monster that was best represented by a real-life pineapple. (The fight featured a very large Avolakia.)
 

aramis erak

Explorer
My players have expressed a preference for my putting things on table-tents, not unlike the name tags.
Time to make the ship cards nice and big...
And, as this reminded me, since the Ship's Counselor got promoted, I have to print a new one for her.
 

S'mon

Legend

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