A big part of telling a story is having your audience feel as if they are part of it. When you create atmosphere at the table, you will find that your players are more excited and become immersed with the game. Here are 6 tips for getting your players to pay attention to you, and not their cell phones while playing roleplaying games.
Background music does wonders for bringing your players into the game.
By using music effectively, you can communicate the tone of the scene and the emotions the characters could be feeling. When your players are in battle, play dramatic and upbeat music. When your players are sneaking about, play quiet and tense music.
You have a few options for programs to use. Spotify has some excellent soundtracks you can use to your advantage…and it’s free.
Search ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ for a soundtrack perfect for a fantasy roleplaying game. For other options or genres, search the soundtrack of your favorite movie or video game in the category.
If you’re willing to spend a few pieces of gold, Syrinscape is an excellent tool for the Dungeon Master. With hundreds of base tracks and thousands of customization options, the possibilities are endless.
With good control over your music, a decent sound station and the inclusion of the following points, you will notice a big difference to the atmosphere and player involvement in your game.
Manipulating your lighting to reflect the mood of your game is another excellent method for creating atmosphere.
If your game is in the horror genre, creating a darkness with the only lights focusing on you as a GM will create a tense feeling, but don’t make it so dark that your players can’t see their character sheet. You can set your table up with candles (fake is recommended) to add more to the mood as well as allowing your players to see their notes.
For games with different scenery, you could adjust the lighting depending on where your characters are. If they find themselves delving into a dark dungeon, dim the lights. If they’re in a well-lit place, open the curtains and let the light flood in. If you want to go all out, set up a system so you can change the color of the light as well.
Physical representation is another excellent tool you can pull out of your shed for creating an immersive atmosphere. Allowing your players to grab onto something or see an object that is also part of the story itself can really bring a player into the game.
For fantasy games, consider getting a large map of your world printed, and hang it on the wall. Put your collections of swords or other decorations to use by surrounding your gaming area with them. Provide character related props, such as a spellbook for wizards.
For horror games, think about what makes your players shiver…for science fiction think about the tech that may be involved. This is another aspect you can really get creative with, and the options are limitless for any genre.
If you really want to get into the atmosphere, providing themed snacks can be an extra piece of fun.
For many genres, this may be unnecessary. But if you want your players to feel like part of the world, get ready to do some baking.
Think about your world, and what people often eat and drink. For fantasy games, perhaps offer your drinks in tankards. For your horror game, have a bowl of punch filled with fake flies and arachnids. Post-apocalyptic? Take Nuka-Cola from the Fallout universe as inspiration, and make your packaging look old and salvaged.
Adding these subtle hints of atmosphere will remind players that even when they are doing real world things around a table, they are very much still in a different universe.
The way you tell your story is perhaps one of the most important factors of nailing an atmospheric environment.
To a shy GM, this may seem daunting, but the strongest weapon at your disposal is your voice. To tell an effective and atmospheric story, you need to be able to change the tone of your voice. Speaking as if you’re giving a TED talk is not a good way to draw people into a mysterious new world.
Taliesin Jaffe (Percival from Critical Role) has some very simple tricks for changing up your NPC voices. The entire video is fantastic, but if you are in a rush, jump to around the 8 minute mark.
When describing something mysterious, slow and deepen your voice, lean forward, and draw your players in. When something tense happens, don’t be afraid to get loud and slam your hands onto something solid to represent something falling.
You also need to give your NPCs voices. A horrifyingly described monster as a final boss won’t be nearly as effective if its voice is your day to day tone. Take the Dark Souls series for example, the characters voices all play into the deep darkness that is the game’s atmosphere.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, you may feel like an idiot, but your players will often think otherwise.
Creating a rich environment in the world you are playing in is the flour to the cake. You may have every other ingredient listed here, but without a good story, it means nothing.
Descriptions will get you far. Take your time to go through what the characters are experiencing. Keep a list of the five senses on your GM screen to remind you. Instead of simply telling them that they are in a dark cave, detail the dampness of the air weighing them down, the taste of the sweat dripping down their face, the stench of rotting meat somewhere in the distance.
Describing the senses makes the characters feel real, and that feeling should reflect in the atmosphere.
In creating a more immersive atmosphere, you will notice a vast improvement to your player’s involvement and the story will feel even more dangerous, mysterious, or pressing than ever before. Take these ideas and play with them. Find what fits your style of play and the genre of your story. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask your players what is working for them.