DMs have a variety of tools at their disposal to set a scene for players. First, there are the core rulebooks and other resources featuring campaign settings, story hooks, NPCs and monsters. The core books set the stage for the DM and the players to execute published adventures or lay the foundation for homebrew campaigns. Second, there are visual stimuli ranging from the very crude – a flat map grid sheet of paper – to the very elaborate – terrain pieces like those sold by Dwarven Forge. DMs can find many useful visual aids for their gaming sessions in craft stores; in the past, I have used cheap mosaic tiles, Play-Doh, colored plastic sheets of paper, and decorative stones to bring the visual element of the game to life. In the past, I relied too often on visual stimuli both as a player and a DM. But there are four other senses, which should not be overlooked.
Earlier in the year, I was influenced by a post by Benoit at Roving Band of Misfits discussing the importance of storytelling for the five senses. Benoit states in the article:
As a DM, when I describe a scene to my players, I generally start with what the PCs see. Unfortunately, I often stop there as well, assuming that my visual description is enough to draw the player into the scene. This is a problem because when we enter new environments, our bodies give us a lot of sensory input that is non-visual. In order to truly draw the player into the scene, we need to play to these other senses as well. So we ask the question: how can we start to describe scenes more fully? I’ve begun using a “blind characters” approach. By that I mean, assume that the characters are entering an environment with their eyes closed, and at the end, they open their eyes. With that in mind, I describe the visual last. By filling in all the other sensory input before giving the full visual picture, I am forced to think about what the characters experience rather than what they see.
It is a very useful strategy for DMs to implement, and I must be honest that I have strayed away from doing this lately. I encourage everyone to read the full article. Visual stimuli are likely the easiest sense to engage with your adventuring party, especially if you have elaborate terrain, but the four remaining senses – smell, taste, touch and hearing – can be a challenge.
- Soundwave superior. Constructions inferior.
I continue to experiment with bringing the various senses to life. For example, I am thinking about searching for specific incense candles for upcoming encounters and locations. In the past, I gave out a bottle of blended scotch-whiskey to the party after they defeated a dastardly pirate. The prop doubled as a healing potion in-game, but required the person to consume some of the “Rot Gut” out of the game. I have not incorporated the sense of touch into the game, unless you consider props such as burnt parchment and other documents created for the campaign.
Below, I focus on the sense of hearing, and provide suggestions for bringing this sense to life during your sessions. I have been wanting to discuss my thought process regarding music and sound for D&D sessions for some time. I finally set my mind to it, and have posted some ideas that may help other DMs out there as they plan for gaming nights.
Continue reading “The Sound of Silence”