Tools of the Trade
So, we all know that a Game Master has various tools at his disposal, but which are the ones that you use?
Here I intend to look at some of the various tools that I’ve used in the past and the ones that I’m hoping to make use of in the future. (I’m going to skip the classics of miniatures and maps, as we all know them).
Music and sound:
We’ve probably all sat at some point, watching a film, or played a game and had the soundtrack carry us along on a ride, causing goosebumps and shivers to run down our spines. Darth Vader’s theme or the tune as Jack Sparrow makes his first appearance in the Pirates of the Caribbean. All these great moments could be channeled in your game.
There are tons of tools out there, such as Youtube, Spotify, and all the other avenues of getting your music. However, I’ve often found that the music there tends to be either too recognizable (causing people to hum along) or contain words (causing people to be distracted). As such, the best tool that I’ve found is Syrinscape.
Syrinscape is a type of music interface, with an absolute TON of options, ranging from eerie winds and ghostly howlings to the happy sound of a tavern. AND it comes in both a Sci-fi and Fantasy version. And while it has a subscriber option (at something like $10 per month) Ben, the creator of Syrinscape, releases 2-3 sound packs a month. And all the soundtracks released while you are a subscriber, are yours to KEEP, even after the subscription expires. (While subscribing you also get access to all the sound packs in Syrinscape – though the ones released before you became a subscriber aren’t permanent access. Those you can access only while subscribing).
Syrinscape is a great tool, but you need to make certain that you have good control over your speakers. Set the music (or sounds) too loudly, and they’ll drown out the players at your table. Set it too low, and they’ll not notice.
One trick that I’ve personally used to great effect is to play the same little piece of music whenever the PCs are engaging with the BBEG’s henchmen. Eventually, the players will catch on to it, and when you play the full piece once they encounter the main villain, they’ll realize instantly that “uh oh! This is bad!”
Props can take many forms, and they’re generally designed to help players visualize the area or the people that they’re meeting. I’ve seen people wear wigs or elaborate outfits, like seen here on Chris Perkins from one of the many Acquisitions Incorporated episodes of Pax, but it need not be anything anywhere near that elaborate.
My favorite 2 props are actually 2 that I’m planning on using in the World Wide Wrestling RPG, though one of them has proven rather difficult to get hold of. That’s a Championship Belt and a Microphone. Both are toys, and while the microphone was easy to get hold of (though it needed a repaint from being bright pink), the Championship belt proved far more difficult to get hold of, especially as Wrestling is not very common over here. However, the plan is for the play who holds the championship to be the one carrying the belt, and for people to be using the microphone whenever they’re cutting a promo. I think it might help a lot of them get into character, and it certainly helped me a lot when creating the NPCs for their campaign.
A lot of gamers use electronic aids these days–tablets to keep track of their information, laptops to sort through campaigns, and many other things.
Generally, I’m against using these sorts of aids, as I’ve found that they often have a tendency to distract players from what’s going on in the game. However, there is one exception that I only recently tried out, after many years of being stubborn. And that’s Instant Messaging. Now we all likely know IM-services and use them every day, but until recently I’d held out against using them in my campaigns, but that changed one day when we were playing Paranoia, and I used the Instant Messenger to send messages to and from the Computer to the PCs. It turned out to be an EXCELLENT tool, in so many ways.
The first is obviously that you no longer need paper, and that it’s much faster and subtler to type out an IM to one of the members of your group. If they’re smart, they’ll have it on silent too, so that it can be done surreptitiously. However, it’s almost even better if they do NOT have it on silent. The other players know that something is up when one of them gets a message and that phone beeps on the table – and it raises the paranoia levels. Even by sending one of them a message simply going, “Read this, smirk, and just close it. Thanks.” – you cause a potential disturbance.
Of course, using it like that should be kept to games where you want the potential conflict, but even in games where you don’t. Simply asking them to make a Perception check and then sending each player a message based on their check. That way they have to communicate with each other, rather than going “Oh, Bob rolled a 25 on his check, we’ll just go with this.”
In any case, this is something that’s become permanent at my table.
How about you, how do you use props and electronic aids in your games? This post originally appeared on d20radio.com on the 4th of May 2018.