GM Tips, hosted by the talented veteran Game Master Satine Phoenix, is our show to help Dungeon Masters and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week, we continued the discussion on creating awesome encounters, and this week we talk about using visual aids to make games immersive.
Every player zeroes into a different aspect of a roleplaying game, be it combat, in-character roleplay, or even painting miniatures. As tabletop becomes more popular and is serving as the central hub for other types of gaming—we’ve gotta cater to those different styles. Plus, who doesn’t like a good handwritten letter to add more impact?
On GM Tips with Satine Phoenix, she had Jennifer Kretchmer on to talk about different visual or tactile enhancements. This includes everything from a veritable home-shopping network of online forges, neat props, and custom homemade puzzle ideas for your players. You should get caught up below!
Potion mysteries aside, here are other tips to support visualization in your games:
Try a Change of Scenery
LARPs have been rolling into larger, big production, ticket events for all styles of gaming. For the tactile-oriented gamer, you should give one a shot. All the puzzles, traps, props, and everything else possible in the video done with Jennifer and Satine can be found at a full immersion LARP.
If you haven’t done one yet, I can’t recommend Dragon Thrones enough. It takes place at various times around the year, (the next one this January 12th – 14th). You can’t get a better visual enhancement to your game than having your story told in a place that’s epic like the Grey Towers at Arcadia University; that just sounds like it’s a fantasy realm already.
But even if you can’t manage to swing a LARP or play in a castle with your friends, take your players on a field trip. It’s okay to leave the table every now and then. Do an in-game field trip to some museum or cool place that you think fits in your world, then run a scene or two there and get some inspiration. Not only will you have fun with some friends and see new places, you’ll add elements into your game that weren’t there before.
Add Character Art
I don’t think any episode on visual aids would be complete without touching base on-what is the most prolific in tabletop: character illustrations. Even if they are stick figures or the most epic fan-art ever, I think character pictures are mandatory. There is a few ways we can enhance them.
First, pay your artists. Even if they are your friends and are doing it for fun—give them money. If they (strangely) refuse that—cookies or coffee might also suffice. The takeaway here is that art takes time, and it’s important to make sure your artist friends know they are valued for their skills. Personal pride in addition to dynamic full body shots, or characters doing mundane tasks (like your barbarian eating bread in pajamas), are pieces you’ll remember for years to come.
Second — and this might be a controversial tip — spend more time on finding or getting cool pictures of your main villains, kings, and queens, or guard captains than you do building their actual sheet. Nobody other than you will see their character sheet, so it’s a poor use of design time to craft every potion or trinket on their sheet. Pour your game-master lifeblood into a forward facing craft and give your players something that will invoke emotion with a single image. Here is my archdemon Golgoroth I had worked up by my artist friend Brandewyn!
Don’t Go Overboard
Lastly, I think it’s prudent to point out—we are tabletop gamers. While it’s fun to craft an entire village, plan every single NPC out in a life-size model, or even move each mini-square by square through a mossy rock dungeon it’s still a game of imagination. Too many visual aids can often become distracting for the story at hand or the roleplay at the table.
Once you go overboard on mini’s, maps, and dungeons the game becomes less about the story and more about the encounter. Most designers will tell you oft recant the phrase ‘less is more’, and it’s a mantra that bears repeating. I advise that you do use visual aids, but keeping it to a few allows the players to use their imagination. Keep the players’ attention on the important parts — like a key puzzle — and less on overwhelming them with a LARP at your kitchen table.
Looking for More Useful GM Tips?
- How to commission artwork for your RPG character.
- Learn how to design gloriously evil villain factions.
- Shop the Geek & Sundry store for DM gear, like “The ABC’s of RPG’s Coloring Book”! (It’s totally GM material for a GM in the making.)
Featured Image by Teri Litorco
Image Credits: Grey Towers at Arcadia University for Dragon Thrones, Golgoroth by Rick Heinz and Brandewyn Illustrations
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.