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-Sean, the Heavy Metal GM \m/
Clothing, letters, strange objects, puzzle boxes; props at the game table have a lot to offer. Sometimes you buy ‘em, most of the time you make ‘em, but what doesn’t change is the fact that they’re really awesome! So today, for your viewing pleasure, I bring you some points about props. Points, though? What the hell does that mean? Well, it means that we’re going to look at two pros and two cons of making props for your games.
A good roleplay exchange can really suck a person into whatever game you’re playing. The power of words, of human interaction, stands paramount among methods of immersion. With that in mind, it still can’t even hold a match to the feeling of pure joy when you see someone’s face light up as you hand them an object. For me, the most recent iteration of this was when I handed a player the letter that’s pictured at the top of this post. Everybody at the table was instantly engrossed in the exchange that had just taken place, waiting eagerly for the player to read the message aloud. She chose to keep the contents to herself, giving the group a short summary, but it was still amazing to see everybody focus within a millisecond. Regardless of how fleeting that moment of pure focus is, your prop will do its job of drawing attention.
So we established that using props weakens the veil between our world and the world we create. If we think about it like the Conjunction of Spheres from the universe of The Witcher, it paints a good picture of the shockwave it can send. Considering that the conjunction happened long before we hear of Geralt, I think it’s safe to call it a more than memorable event, as we see remnants of it constantly. See where I’m goin’ with this? That increased immersion makes the moment your prop comes out ridiculously memorable. Especially if it’s a cool bauble or magic item that’s important to the story; maybe something that the party is protecting. Not only is the item crucial to the team’s success at that point, but the players, being swept up in their immersion, feel that anxiety too since it’s literally sitting on the table staring them in the face. If you genuinely felt like you were being hunted by a lich because you have its squirrel skull (its phylactery), I’d say that would be a pretty memorable feeling! Creating those moments that people talk about for years is what we chase in gaming, and props are almost like a cheat code to do that.
This is less of a problem if you buy your prop. Going on Amazon to buy some little plastic brain in a jar is likely not that time consuming. When you take the time to actually create a prop, regardless of what it is, you’re investing time. As we know, it’s the most important resource we have, something to be cherished. Making something like a letter doesn’t take too much of it, but the more complex and interesting your prop is, the more time it takes to make. Sadly, there’s a direct correlation of how kooky/elaborate your item is and how interested people are in it. Of course, that generalization has exceptions, but we can assume it to be true most of the time. Especially since when it’s not true, it only benefits us. If you’re someone who’s used to playing war games, I don’t think this point will be much of an issue. For the rest of us? Well, I think I’ll be sticking to easy props like letters.
Unfortunately, whenever you talk about time, money finds its way into the conversation too. Unless you’re crafting your prop out of junk you have lying around the house, you’ll probably have to buy something. Again, a reason why I think letters are fun enough. This point is especially true if you are using something most people can’t make, like a scrap of cloth or puzzle box, as your prop. Most of the time, I would imagine a lot of us shoot low with these just to save both commodities I just mentioned. Play it smart, and this point is far less of a deal breaker than it would be otherwise.
Props are great, no question. Personally, and this could be because of my age, time and money are two things that are more important to me now than they’ll probably be later. Hopefully, you’re someone in a better position that can really go all in on these things to make the best gaming experience for both you and your players. Though, I must say, if props are really your thing, maybe your group should just do LARP! Not my thing, but there’s plenty of people in the HLG community that could point you in the right direction, should the concept be new to you.
Cheers and Stay Metal \m/
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM, a freelance writer and blogger that loves the roleplaying games more than life itself. As a person who’s always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com. Join the conversation.
Image Source: A prop made by yours truly!
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.