Monday, 10 November 2014

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #2 - Involving the Senses

This is Part #2 of a 5-part series. For the other 4 parts, go to these links: Part #1, Part #3, Part #4, and Part #5.

Since the beginning of versamus my writing and my GMing has grown considerably. As such, I felt it would be a good idea to re-write the first series I ever released on here - Emotion in Gaming (1234). This post is a revision of the second part: External Influences, which I am renaming Involving the Senses. I'm actually breaking this one into 2 different posts, as it was getting a little long!

This series is useful to GMs and players alike who want games that really stay in your memory, long after the session in which it was played has come and gone.

Emotion in Gaming 2.0 - Part #2 - Involving the Senses


Often the greatest barrier between your players and their emotions is, oddly enough, your game. Not the story, or the characters, or anything on that kind, but the fact that you're all sitting around a table and playing something. Whilst true immersion is impossible (and not even ideal), you do want your players invested in your game world. The best way to do this, I have found, is by influencing your players' senses.

As I touched on last time, we have more than the 5 senses that good ol' Pliny put down, but we can hardly include proprioception into a campaign. What we can do is influence Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Some of these tips are elsewhere, and last time I left them out if they were, but not this day.
Procrastination, always putting things off till another day.

Sight

Sight is the easiest and cheapest trick in a GM's book. A GM can go to really any length on this spectrum, from finding good image boards on Pinterest (of which there are many), and checking out the two Greatest Damn Art Resources(1, 2), to making PowerPoint presentations or AfterEffects clips showcasing the art, all the way to performing your own "holograms" like I described last time.

Really, anything can be mocked up easily for your players' benefit.

Not only is sight easy to trick, it is also quite effective at rallying your players behind a single mindset. A map is great to give a sense of scale to a journey, and a monster image will help build the epicness. But all of these techniques are surface deep.

The best use of sight I have ever done was in limiting it. By controlling the lighting in your sessions you can build fear and apprehension (much as I did, by making the corners of the room difficult to perceive). This can be done in any way from replacing electric light with candles (or those "electric candles" you can get from craft/homeware stores) to a dimmer switch.

Sound

Sound can be a great addition to the tabletop for building emotion, but it can be a distracting tool for the GM to use. Building playlists around themes may work for some, but I often find myself either ignoring the playlist completely, or tripping over it as the mood changes.

Luckily, fantastic alternatives now exist! Syrinscape, a subscription-based system enables you to more seamlessly integrate sound effects and music into your game. However, there is a lot there, and it might not be to everyone's taste. Therefore, a free alternative (though you really should donate!) is Tabletop Audio, a lovingly curated background ambience web-player. Check it out, if you haven't already.

Music should be played at low volume so that when only one person is talking (hopefully the GM, not players talking over each other) it can be heard in the background, but when everyone is getting into the spirit, it doesn't make you raise your voice. Sound works best to create emotion when you match the flow of your own voice to the music, so make sure to describe those dark caverns in a slow, deeper method than a pirate swinging from the riggings!

Smell

Smell is a very difficult sense to trick, especially so at the tabletop when you don't have anyone behind the senses. Whilst I used to think incense was a good idea at the tabletop, it can be very distracting if done incorrectly. Instead, I now advocate for mixing Smell with the other senses:
  • If you're using candles for lighting, consider scented candles (or maybe even church candles if you want to get that waxy smell really strong),
  • If you're cooking (see Taste next post), make sure you do it shortly before playing, so the house smells strongly of the food,
  • If you're not directly cooking, put some spices in a pan for a few moments, or brew some coffee, or make fragrant tea,
  • Spray a little perfume under the table at a pivotal moment,
  • And so on...
Smells should be used sparingly. Not everything needs a physical smell, but you should always describe it at least. However, if you have a villain who always smells like sickly lavender, and you spray some under the table every time they appear, the next time your players smell it yet you've said nothing they will go into frenzy.


Next post will be about Touch and Taste, my two favourite senses at the tabletop!


Have you ever used sight, sound or smell at the tabletop to heighten the ambience, and create more memorable moments? Did it go well? Did it go poorly? Let me know!