“For the last time, Tim, we are not dropping the bass in the crypt.”
Sometimes setting the mood can be tricky.
Getting everybody “into the game” and creating immersion can be a pain in the a** sometimes. We live in the age of technology, where countless memes and cat videos are readily available, so the amount of distracted players has gone up 2-3 million percent.
So how do you keep them focused? It’s not a perfected science, and sometimes it depends on your players. I’ve had some games that were a complete disaster, but some games where I was really able to get some solid playing out of my groups.
Over time, I learned that little things like visual cues, music, and such can go a long way. I’m running a game on Roll20 at this time, and the visual cues I’ve been using have been well-received by my players and this has been the strongest game I’ve run to date.
So here are three tips to add drama to your fiction!
1. Ambiance: This is your world. If the players are out in a light thicket, with the sun shining on their backs, consider some music. Something light, cheerful, or just some ambient nature sounds. Are they within a dark crypt? Perhaps a slow, dreary tone, or some ambient sounds of scratching, growls, etc (D&D background music). Capitalize on available sounds to help really set the tone. As you give your description of the damp passages the party is traversing, having that creepy low melody playing quietly can really kick things up a notch. Kicking on something dramatic or blood-pumping during a fight can also help players feel amped for the battle! A really easy way to do this is to create a Youtube playlist for D&D battle music as I have, and use it at the table. You can also easily create a custom playlist if WiFi isn’t an option. But remember it can be easy to ruin this by playing techno or dubstep at the table… unless you’re into that.
2. Visuals: This is D&D people. We’re not playing for the highest-end visuals, and we’re not expecting the best maps ever (unless you got the cash to sprint for them, then do you). A traditional hand-drawn map more than suffices. But if you’re not making the kind of scratch to bust out high-end maps and tokens or build 3D maps then providing light visual aids can be a huge boon. I, for one, am fairly weak at describing a setting (I’m not Tolkien, people) so I’ll provide stock images of fantasy taverns, docks, castles, etc. to help engage the players’ imaginations to get a clearer idea of where they’re at. For Roll20, I ready several images, and upload them to the map we are on then hit Shift +Z to expand it, so this image pops into the forefront for all players. For a live game, you can always consider loading images onto a tablet to provide to players, or printing images.
3. House Rules and Breaks: One of my favorite pieces of advice that Travis gave me was to ban devices while playing D&D. Without our electronic devices, players tend to stay more engaged and invested at what’s happening at the table (and are listening when a god damn orc crits on them). It can be more difficult when playing an online game, as everybody is sitting with the entire internet at their fingertips. It can, and will, inevitably devolve from time to time, and that’s OK! One thing I like to do is take a 10-15 minute break an hour or two into the game, let people share funny videos (which I know they’ve been looking at when it’s not their f*ing turn) and memes. It also lets everyone decompress, chill for a bit, and hop back in when their heads are in the game.
This illustrates all 3 points: makes a great image to show, would necessitate creepy music, and would sure as hell get your players’ attention.
Consider some of the above tips, and feel free to craft your own! Let us know what you think of if you have any tools you use.
Until next time, happy gaming!