Lighting & Props
Last post I talked about how music can be used to help create the atmosphere and mood you want for your game. Music is my main go-to for my games, but that is not the only thing a creative G.M. can do.
Lighting and props can also help create and enhance the mood and atmosphere at your gaming table. While lighting is not always as easy to manipulate and change, there are a few simple things you can do. Depending on how tech savvy your group is, lighting changes may be problematic, but I have a few tricks to hopefully overcome some of those problems.
Let’s start with the tech savvy group. This is the group where the GM and all the players use tablets and/or laptops for all the information they need. Character sheets, rule books, adventure notes and sometimes even the play mat are all digital. In this situation, the light level in the room is not nearly as important as when people are relying on printed and hand written information. In this situation, changing light levels become far easier. If you have the lighting in the room connected to a dimmer, do not hesitate to use it to darken the room when nightfall has come, if they are in a cavern or even if they are in a darkened bar or nightclub.
Go to your local party supply store and pick up some colored light bulbs. Red, green, orange, blue, and especially black lights can make for interested lighting effects. If you have a few lamps in the room, swap out the normal bulbs with some of these. Choose the color that best suits the situation for you. In a cave? Then use blue and black lighting. If there is a scene with lava, have a lamp with a red or orange light to turn on as they enter the area with the lava. The same can be done for an in or tavern lit by a large central fireplace. Look for flickering light bulbs that may help simulate dancing flames effects. Pick up a small disco light projector if you plan on having night clubs or dance halls, this is particularly true for cyberpunk-esque settings.
A few well-placed lamps with the right kind of light bulb can go pretty far in helping to create an atmosphere that can help draw your player in.
Now, for those groups that aren’t as tech savvy and still use paper character sheets and physical books, let’s see how you can use lighting without ruining your ability to read your sheets. The easiest way is to have a central, overhead light that is just bright enough to read by but no brighter. Then you can use the colored light bulbs in other lamps off to the side. This is not as effective but it can still lend a bit to the atmosphere. Certain lighting effects are kind of ruined by having a normal lamp lit, primarily the black light effect. However, you could still easily use a disco light projector and other colored lights to some pretty decent effect.
Play around with lighting, it’s fun and it can help create the mood you are looking for!
Let’s shift gears and talk props. What do I mean when I say props? Well, it can be the Paizo Pathfinder line of playmats and a few miniatures or paper standees to help visualize the area the players are in. But it can also by the cups you serve drinks in, the pencils you use, incense burning in the background, 3D-terrain, hats and outfits you wear.
Props are anything you bring in to help physically visualize or represent the mood or setting you are looking to create.
Are you playing a fantasy game? Look for mugs and cups made of wood or ones the look to be made of wood. Drinking from something that looks like a medieval tankard can really help players get into that mindset. Playing a post-apocalyptic setting? Look for old 1950’s or 1960’s glasses, clean out and use old soup cans to serve drinks in. Playing a near future cyberpunk like setting? Try looking for some 1970’s stainless steel postmodern glasses. Look for any weird shaped metal cups that look like they could belong in a night club your players’ fixer can always be found at. This same logic can extend to plates and eating utensils.
Using pencils for your character sheets? Look for ones that have art similar to your setting. If you are playing a fantasy setting, look for pens or pencils with feathers on them, or make your own, so they resemble quills.
Costumes can seriously help set the mood of the game table and help players and GMs alike get into the mindset of the setting. If everyone can and is willing to do it, that is great. But even if only the GM dresses up in a costume to fit the setting, it can help the imagination a lot. Playing a 1930’s Noir setting? Dressing up like Al Capone or Humphrey Bogart in his films “The Big Sleep” or “The Maltese Falcon” can make it seem all the more real. Female players or GMs can dress up in a flapper dress or dress up like a hard-nosed detective like a “My Girl Friday”. Playing a fantasy setting, a wizard’s robe for the GM can go a very long way. Cyberpunk? A shirt with some hard rock band on it works, or dressing up like a fixer or “Mr Johnsons” works even better. A pair of mirror shades would be a must, I would think.
You can also use decorations. Placing a few nice dragon statuettes around the table, some old sticks of ram lying around the table for a cyberpunk game, or some 1980’s trolls if you are playing your own home version of “Stranger Things” are just a few examples of what you can do with decorations. Players can pick these up and fidget with them, bringing a more tactile sense of the setting into play.
So, there you go. A few tips and tricks for enhancing the mood and setting of your game. I hope some of these ideas helped you in your game or helped spark some completely different and original ideas that you can run with.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.