Beyond the Dice: Layer Cake

Taking your gaming to the next level is something that all gamers struggle with, I’m no exception to the rules either! But what I’ve found that really grabs your game group and sucks them into the action is layers! And the more layers you add, the more you get everyone into what’s going on! You’ll stop having people randomly jumping up to run to the bathroom or get something to drink or a snack! They will become so vested in what’s happening, when you call an end to the evening, they won’t want to go home! And it’s such a great feeling when people tell you that you’ve run the absolute BEST game that they’ve ever played! So, let’s get into it! Here is how to make your gaming Layer Cake!

Layer One: Sound!

There are A LOT of different ways to add an audio component to your game. The obvious one is music, but simply putting on your favorite playlist isn’t going to do it. Nope, you need to think about this a little! I’ve discovered that music with lyrics doesn’t work as well, it’s distracting to your players, even when you have it down low. Try to think about movie soundtracks instead, notice that they almost never have any words in the music when it’s being used as a subtle layer to the scene? And for that matter, using a movie soundtrack for background during one of your games works great! I suggest the soundtrack from the original Conan movie with Arnold if you’re playing D&D!

But using sound in your games doesn’t end there! Just look up “Fantasy Sounds” or “RPG Sounds” on your phone’s Play Store. How about having the sound of an actual creaking door when the players are opening a door in the game? The sounds of gunshots when you have a sniper taking shots at them! What about the sounds of a wild cat screaming when they’re fighting a Dire Tiger! The things that you can find in these apps are yet another layer that you can use to bring them into the story even further. I suggest you check it out and play around a bit with whatever app you choose, then integrate it into your scene. Try to not fumble with your phone too much though, don’t lose the momentum of the scene you’re creating!

Layer Two: Lights!

Now, in certain games, low lighting is almost a requirement. I mean, playing Call of Cthulhu with all the lights on isn’t nearly as fun! But you can take it even further if you’re willing to put just a little into it. First, you have to remember that everyone needs to see their character sheets and dice so don’t get too crazy with this! However, if you exercise some Google Fu, you will find that there are Bluetooth enabled LED light strips and light bulbs that you can buy for under twenty-five bucks. Got a scene taking place next to a lake? Tap your phone and get aquamarine! Going against a fire breathing dragon? Touch the screen and bathe the room in red! If you really want to get fancy, buy more than one so you can get multi-layered color effects!

You can use LED candles around the table to help your players to see whats going on, plus, it adds even more to the scene. Just be sure that you don’t use real candles, when people get excited and there’s an open flame around, the potential for fire becomes very real! And if you do go too far and your players are complaining about not being able to see, just pick up a pack of penlights for under ten dollars.

Layer Three: Props!

I know that I’ve mentioned this tip before, but let me expand on that! First, I give my players an incentive to use props in my game. Right now I’m only doing it for the regular D&D game that I run, so it’s a 5% bonus to XP for each game in which they used the prop! Now, I’m introducing this concept gradually to them, so the next step is to entice them to do more. At my next game, I’m going to tell them that they get to increase that bonus by one percent for every prop they use. That includes doing something like wearing a wizard’s hat. Imagine it! Everyone gathered at the table wielding axes, swords, shields, wands, and maybe even a lute! The wizard is fishing around in their spell components pouch and reciting the words to a spell while the barbarian is adjusting their furs and hefting their axe!

I mean, how much fun would that be?! Now, here’s the difficult part for the person running things. What is YOUR prop going to be? I mean, it’s only fair that you join in the fun, right? So, since you probably can’t morph into a short, grey-haired, mostly bald, wizened looking old man wearing red robes with a penchant for disappearing, what are you going to do for your prop? (And for any of you who gets that reference, yes, I’m old too!) Rather than being forced to carry around a massive bag full of all kinds of props for all the different roles you may or may not be portraying in an evening, why not go with the wizened old person shtick? But I suggest that you make it your own, just, don’t be the only one in the room without a prop or doing some cosplay, you’ll be the one not fitting in!

Layer Four: Voices!

The human voice is a marvelous thing! And with a little training, it can change in pitch, resonance, inflection, and intensity. Simply changing your pitch to simulate different people’s voices is a start! I mean, everyone doesn’t sound the same, so why are you making them sound the same? But I want you to think beyond that and look at the character. What voice would go with that character? Is it a barrel-chested man with a great, long beard and a gruff manner? Wouldn’t his voice be deeper and maybe a little gravel in it? What about the little girl with the pig-tails and the shiny black shoes? High pitched and a bit of a sing-song quality maybe?

Voices tell us a lot about a person. How someone talks and what they say adds another layer to them that makes them stand out. And if you don’t believe me, try doing a different voice for just one character in your game and I can just about guarantee that your players will remember that NPC. But give it a try and see what happens, see how they react. Maybe all you can do right now is change your pitch up or down, use that! And start paying attention to how people speak more. You’ll start noticing how some people’s voices come from deep in their chests and others see to speak out of their noses, that’s resonance! You’ll notice how some people say a word with a harder sound in a different spot, that’s inflection! Eventually, you’ll start to hear all the layers of the human voice and how we communicate!

Now, exercise your technology skills again. Go to the app store, get on Google, and look for an accent trainer. Actors use these kinds of things all the time! Want the elf to sound British and the dwarf to sound Scottish? Or what if you’re playing a modern game and actually need to portray a British person? What if you’re playing a futuristic game and need something different for an alien? Using a different accent for different characters in a game will really change things up! I’ve got about half a dozen that I use, and even if some of them are done badly, there isn’t anyone from those areas of the world to call me on it! Just get close enough and let your players’ imaginations do the rest of the work!

Happy Gaming!


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