Balancing Act VI: Props

Props have numerous purposes. They assist with immersion, provide additional information, make for fascinating clues, and keep players interested. It’s one thing to be told about the journal that you find, it’s another thing to have an excerpt to read and hold.

Taste.  Food can increase immersion if it fits with with the theme or mood of the game. Tea and cucumber sandwiches provide a mood different from Mountain Dew and Salt & Vinegar crisps. One would work well for a 1920s investigation game, the others would be perfect for a cyberpunk meetup at a hacker’s home. You could even hand out the treats in game as your NPC. It’s a great way to get the player’s to drop their guard and potentially partake of poisoned drink so long as you point out that what is drunk out of character is also drunk in character.

Temperature. Environmental changes can also assist in connecting the players to the characters. However, don’t make it too uncomfortable and do allow your players the right of veto. At the very least, let them rug up if you turn on the air conditioner. They’ll still get the point about how cold it is even if they experience it in relative comfort.

Sight. Pander to your player’s sense of sight by providing photographs of important NPCs, diary props, maps, and other physical clues rather than simply describing them. Don’t forget to give them the time to read these props, though, and be aware that some players will want to painstakingly go over them (which might take awhile) and others will cast a cursory glance at them and move on. Be aware that most players won’t be keen on reading that 100-page painstakingly built journal, especially in the middle of a session. Often smaller “example pages” are best.

Smell. Baking cookies can lure them into a false sense of security (especially if coupled with a kindly old NPC lady and some candle light). Incense provides exoticism and may remind them of where they are as they walk into that cultist den. A lit match has a distinctive smell as does fresh leather or perfume sprayed on a card. Just be aware of your player’s limitations. Some people get headaches from certain scents.

Touch. Bring physical sensation to the fore with props your players can touch (i.e. fake cigars, diaries, flash lights, and weapons props). This can also be utilised for in-game ramifications, such as the Keeper who handed his player a rusty flashlight that hadn’t been quite screwed on tight enough for the batteries to power the light. While the characters were in hiding, the player immediately tightened the flashlight lit and it made an awful noise….

If anyone’s created any really awesome props or have ideas for ways to engage the senses, mention so in the comments below! You can check out other articles on running horror games over here.

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