The floor shook with the slow stamp of feet. The roundhouse was filled with kith and kin alike. The Chieftain strode into the hall, his young daughter in his arms. Taking his seat, he motioned to the Bard and said, “Give us the story of our seaborne foes.”
Bradán, named for his wisdom; tapped the platform three times with his Blackthorn staff. The bard having cleared the roundhouse of the stamping of feet, and the whisper of talk, began his tale
Set upon the platform under brightly woven cloth lay the head of the ship the Northmen used. A fierce beast carved into a wood none could name. Foreign, and untrustworthy this thing was. The crowd stared intently with open malice at it.
“I will tell you of valor, of treachery. I will speak of these things. Then we shall burn their seabeast. Pitiful thing it is. Could it dare cast its gaze on our isle?” He all but roared into the crowd. His face becoming crimson hued under a shroud of dark hair. The audience lay still, Bradán had them locked into his gaze. His every motion they followed.
Hello friends, my last Twitter poll landed on the topic of using props in Narrative Gaming. It’s a great topic. It encompasses far more than just physical props. It’s anything that can distance our minds from the ‘real’ and into that ritual state of shared imagination. The careful application of props can turn a mundane night into one etched in memory forever.
I have been game mastering in some fashion for about 28 years. Rarely a player, I enjoyed telling stories, and helping others to tell theirs. Which is important in our hobby isn’t it? We all have a tale to tell. A demon to exercise, a fiction to toy with. Nothing makes it so tangible than when you are handed something that you get to keep! It’s ‘yours’ both in and out of character. Something you will look upon in fondness for years.
This is also true of musical props, which is where we will begin. The world is absolutely rich in music. Beautiful, unending music. Every culture has it, every culture needs it. I’m going to share some music with you and explain the choices behind why I shared them.
This beautiful simple song sounds strangely provocative to the western ear doesn’t it? Watch them play it, they look so happy to be doing so. It’s almost infectious. Do you have ‘That’ area in your world? You know, the great ‘Other’ land. They look like us, but they are very different in every other way. Their food is weird and spicy, their women dress in an odd manner. The men seem to dislike eye contact. Your weary party makes it to a building with a sign showing a roasted boar. Following their noses, they know a supper lays in there. After the meal a corner clears and these dour folk begin smiling as this troupe stands up from the crowd. They take position in the corner and begin playing this tune. You’ve now marked generic ‘foreign’ town A, in their memories for a long time. Send em’ the song by email later. Maybe their character will now hum it while walking.
Your longship has returned after a brutal season of raiding. The trip was was a net loss for the whole clan. Bitterness is ripe between everyone. The Jarl calls a Thing near the shore where the statue of Mispan Daughter of the Nine Waves is. His Volva begins this rhythmic chant. Reminding all in town (Including the party who totally blew the raid) that we are ONE people. Our foes cannot overcome us, we have thrown trolls before us. We dwell free here in the north. A bitter loss, turned into a community forming event. Slights forgiven, oaths renewed.
Your party approaches the keep where the Anchorites live. You need access to knowledge only they possess. The key to defeating an ancient foe. You come to the gate, and are let in by an elderly man who motions you into silence. From the main building a song begins growing louder the closer you approach. The party stops as they finish their hymn, not daring to interrupt such a beautiful song. (They now associate this particular keep/ religion, with this song.)
Your weary party lands on the small isle of Ansalash. Known for it’s spiced wines and odd customs. You know deep in the mountains of their homeland they a cave. There in it lays the Rod of Kasir. The only wizard to have ever permanently slain a demon. You need help to get there and will have to hire guides. So you meet with the Tribunal council to discuss if this is permissible to them as a people. The debate lasts long after sundown. They encourage you to remain for a meal and rest. During the meal a lovely troupe begins this moving song. Small talk is made while it plays in the background. You begin speaking again with the members of the Tribunal, it seems they have are not so stern when not on a podium. You may have luck yet.
I could literally post 200 videos. I love world music. There’s magic to it. All of it. A universal language.
Let’s move on to some physical props! Everyone’s favorites in my experience. Scrolls, they are commonly handed out as treasure and they are vital to your pointy hat wearing players and priests. Why just give em’ a name of the spell, and what page number they can find it on? Try this instead: “In the leather bound case you find a single scroll, unsealed you can glimpse the language of demons from inside it. It pulsates with arcane energy in a blackish red aura.” Wizard, “I take time to cast Protection from Evil, Armor, and draw my wand of Searing Pain. ‘Everyone stand back from me, this scroll looks dangerous. I’ll need to read it to know for sure. Just be ready.’ ‘For what?’ ‘Everything’.”
Then you hand them one of these.
Suddenly that Summon Monster V spell isn’t so boring is it? You can buy these here!
What about that cleric scroll? Well, there’s an Etsy for that too but honestly it’s way overpriced, and you can do it crazy cheap. I’ll show you how.
Whoa, that looks cool Oghma. I dunno. Shush, yes you can. This is a dowel rod cut into pieces about 5 1/4 inches long. With Window curtain rail caps added spray painted with gold. The paper is standard rolled parchment. Which can be had here. Run it through your printer. Trim it, back it with a layer of thicker paper. Afterwards use a paintbrush and put some tea along the edges and bam. Your Glyph of Warding just got serious.
Your party is absolutely beaten. You’ve been protecting the walls of your ladies keep for 4 hours now. The armies of Kell have not abated. They don’t intend on making this a lengthy siege. They want this fort now. Each of you have taken wounds that would of felled lesser women and men. Yet, you stand firm. The apothecary runs from his workshop near the stable with a basket of vials. The liquid has an odd purple color and smells spicy. He assures you that it will rejuvenate your fighting spirit and may close small wounds.
Take those potion bottles and put a dram (or two) of brandy in them, and a splash of fruit juice. Add a food dye of your choice. Potions, drinkable right there at the table potions. Easy and cheap. Get the bottles here!
Now how about those awards? Make your players feel welcome! Give out awards and frequently. Just not experience! If someone helps everyone get together on the same page outside of the game show your appreciation gaming style.
Campaign Coins are awesome for this. I don’t even know what these coins are for they just look great. Get them here!
They don’t like coins? Well let me tell you, I’ve got an alternative!
Have their favorite NPC send them a missive. “I miss you, come to me as soon as you can! A key for my door, a kiss for my love.”
Get them Here!
But Oghma, I run a Sci-Fi or Horror game… what kinda potions can I use?
A fine question hypothetical sir/madam.
Green or yellow Jello Shots for Sci-Fi Bio memetic gel. Or Red for Bloodborne/Call of Cthulu healing vials. Get em’ Here!
This post could go forever, candles, baked goods, fresh herbs in a satchel. Always check allergies prior to unleashing goods upon people. Epipens are expensive, and make sure you don’t have anyone with an addiction problem before you introduce alcohol. If you want to up your game and commission an artist to draw a scroll for you by all means ask I know quite a few with extremely reasonable prices and they would like the challenge!
This is the most important thing of all:
Thank them for their time, for their sharing. For driving to your house, or picking people up. Bringing food, drinks. Be thankful for your friends, nurture them like the finest flowers, and they will bloom all your life.
“The mind is a garden, it grows what you seed.
Are you planting flowers,
or planting weeds?”