- Lends significance. In every tabletop game and many LARPs, there are a lot of description only items floating about the place. These are items that the players are told about but which they never actually see and certainly can’t carry around with them. As they say, out of sight is out of mind so the item is more likely to be forgotten as soon after it is mentioned.
- Adds gravity to resource management. It’s one thing to know you only have twelve bullets left to share between you, another thing entirely to have to ration out your twelve bullets and actually watch them dwindle before your very eyes.
- Influences relationships. People tend to react differently to folks in tactical vests and bristling armament than a fellow in a T-Shirt and jeans. They certainly react differently if someone is covered in blood and carrying a severed hand. This is incredibly important in a LARP as no matter how much you call out a description, odds are several people won’t hear it and will then need to retroactively justify why their character didn’t say anything about the spider-tumour on your forehead.
- Affects roleplay. One of my favourite moments in a LARP included hiding a very expensive poison up my sleeve (represented by a pen) and then having to decide just whom to give it to before I got searched. Then the person I had to give it to was about to enter a room with a very suspicious woman and so rushed back to interrupt a conversation I was having to pretend “tidy up my clothes” and therefore stash the poison back with me. Thus putting an object in game makes the question of “Who do I reveal it to?” and “How do I keep it hidden?” so much more valuable.
- Gives players something to do. Whether in a tabletop or a LARP, there’s always those quiet moments where the other characters are busy and you are not. Having something physical to read, fiddle with or consider can really keep your interest high, especially if there’s some kind of puzzle element to it.
- Can prove that someone fell for a trap. It always seems a bit dodgy to tell a player after they have described inserting batteries into their flashlight that it made an awful squeak and now the monster is after them. Much better to give them a rusty flashlight and let them open it and cause the squeak to happen. That way you all know precisely how loud that way.
- Add Interest. What is new is special. All roleplaying games involve a lot of spoken words, so having something that engages the other senses will refresh the player’s interest in what is going around them.
- Prevents multiple people from thinking they have The Thing. While most tabletop games have sheets of paper and pencils to help ensure that everyone knows which backpack holds the McGuffin, a large LARP of 30 players could easily lead to misunderstandings where several people all think they have the McGuffin just because they held it once or used a pickpocket skill. Must better to have an actual item they need to present to prove they have it.
- Immersion. Props can help the players forget that they are playing a game and really feel that they are actually there. The more a player can embody their character, the more likely they will have that feeling. Even a few key props can make a difference to any game.
- Takes the onus off the Game Master. This is all the more important in a LARP where de-centralising gameplay is vital so that players can all do multiple things at once. If you have puzzles that can themselves indicate their own success, you don’t need a Game Master to let the players know if it worked.
Next up I’ll talk about some of my favourite props I’ve made or played around with in various tabletop games and LARPs. What are some of yours?