Audio in tabletop role-playing games can certainly help with immersion. You can use looping music for background ambiance, or you can use sound effects for things occurring within your game, examples include the crackle of a fire place, sounds of laser guns, battle noises with swords clanging and much more. Does it ever become too much, or become a distraction?
Thanks to AmazingAlex for bringing this up on our forums.
Voicemails from Chris Shorb
AwolTrooper weighs in on GM Screens
Re: ep 317 – Game Masters screen today. I’m amazed that in your whole conversation about GM screens and their purpose, you both overlooked what I consider to be the only important factor when implementing a screen: the mystery. Yes, there are millions of styles and techniques to run the thousands of games out there, so as a cinematic traditionalist of the Old School games, a huge aspect for me when setting the tone at the table is the mysticism and wonder of my players’ experience. Setting up a screen is not just a visual aspect of the game, nor just a quick reference of tedious rules, but it’s a powerful and effective mental cue for the players that not all rpgs benefit from.
The Game Master, in my definition, must be the person in charge: Confident, intimidating, and mysterious. What obstacles lie in wait? What terrors will step out of the shadows? No one can map the depths of an expert GM’s mind, and a screen keeps that mysticism alive, it keeps players wondering what they’ll encounter, what could possibly be planned in the heart of the Volcano? and, on a more subtle note, it establishes two “camps”. Everyone on the OTHER side of the screen is suddenly, silently aware that it’s not 5 people around the table, playing a game, it’s 4 players & the Game Master. Suddenly it sets an asymmetric dynamic, It establishes a level of authority that doesn’t need to be aggressive or patronizing, doesn’t need to be adversarial, but it DOES need to set up the idea that the players aren’t always working WITH the GM, but must overcome the challenges that the GM presents together, as a squad.
I’m not of the “GM-vs-the-players” mentality, but I do think, for some games, it’s important that my players know that the role I embody is not that of “friend” but as “judge”, specifically to enhance their experience. And, Brett, there’s absolutely something to be said about building your own screen.
The very first screen I ever built was a castle face that had a gate I could slide up and down and push minis or props out to my players. It was goofy and dumb, but wildly effective. They would all hold their breath excitedly as they heard the cheap cardboard, latticed gate slide upward to reveal the new monster or sack or coins they could open. My newer one is simple, sturdy, and elegant enough for my tastes, but most importantly- it’s mine, that I built, and players can really feel that. I keep maybe 3 sheets of rules, glued to a beige folder used for storing random handouts or maps- and the current map sticky-tacked to one arm. Beyond that, I’ve a single notebook and a few props or minis, but the purpose is always the same: The Mystery. The potential of any adventure in the multiverse just waiting to be discovered.
Gygax and Arneson often hid themselves entirely, not because they wanted a wall of rules to reference, but to separate their individual, human qualities from the faceless and impartial expectations of being a Game Judge. While a full GM shield does sometime pique my interest in a purely scientific or exhibitionist capacity, you can’t deny that- beyond the absurdity of it all- with a full screen, Players are no longer listening to their buddy Awol the GM, who may smirk at a low-hanging innuendo that slips out, or break his train of thought when making eye contact with that person who made the hairy dwarf joke, but instead can find themselves fully immersed in the room description being laid before them, they can look at each other and develop plans rather than look to the GM for assistance expectantly, They can’t read my face and spoil the surprise of the inevitable trap they’re tip-toeing towards. This, in conjunction with tension setting secret die rolls, or props that seem to materialize before their very eyes can help build the ultimate player immersion and experience- and that’s what it’s about.
Everyone plays differently, but it’s important to recognize that the screen, while not as impactful during the virtual games of this pandemic, has a rich history that goes beyond a quick reference wall of rules. Godspeed, boys.
Jason writes in for first time, about cursed items.
Hey BSers Wanted to drop a line and let you know how much I’ve been enjoying your show. I’ve been listening for several months now and have been bingeing the old episodes. Alas podbean only seems to have them as far back as #117. So I couldn’t start at the beginning, sorry Sean. To make it up to you I’ll disagree with Brett on something.
I listened to the Cursed Items episode last night and found myself shaking my head as Brett talked of items with down sides basically being cursed. Now everyone’s mileage will vary but for me part of being cursed is the inability to get rid of said item. Otherwise you’re just weighing pros and cons. In 2nd ed. is a two handed sword cursed because you can’t use a shield with it? Because it’s weapon speed makes in slower? (yes we used weapon speed! AND WE LOVED IT!) No shield and slow are downsides but I wouldn’t call them curses. Otherwise a great episode, one that made me wonder if I’ve made a mistake by not using cursed items more in my games. I also want to thank Sean for bringing Mothership to my attention. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet but it’s up as a possible next campaign once my current Streaming Vampire chronicle ends in december. (you can watch us at twitch.tv/direbeargm tuesdays at 6CST) Anyway great show and thanks for helping a third shift worker pass the time at work.
The GM some call Jason
Michael Dinos on cursed items
good episode as usual! I like the idea of making cursed items do other weird things beyond the basic curse, particularly to add that gothic flavour for Strahd. This could be changed slightly for any campaign, really; are you running in Chult? Maybe the item makes you sweat more (or less), Icewind Dale? You can never actually get warm, and are always uncomfortably chilly.
I think special mention must go to the only cursed item that parties should actually want: The Armor of Arrow Attraction. I had a DM many many years ago jokingly give this to our cleric, but it quickly became the most popular item in the group. I was especially grateful for it, as I played a Wizard at the time with the absolutely incredible Wizard HP. After a while, the DM tried to take it back and convince the cleric to abandon the armour, but the cleric refused, citing the DM’s formerly favorite line: “You should have thought about it before you did it”
Edwin Nagy writes in on Losing in RPG’s and question for BS’ers!
Winning and losing—I liked your all’s discussion after Kojo’s comment that you can’t lose. Some of it comes down to whether losing is bad in one’s mind. I can lose a game while having fun and I can win a game without having fun. I don’t see them as related. I agree with Sean that it could be debated ad infinitum, but my own take is that if there are in-game goals, then one can achieve them to a greater or lesser degree, and if a person wants to call that winning and losing, who am I to stop them. And if you are a person that can’t have fun while losing (or winning), then choose your games carefully.
But, I have something more important to ask about:
A friend of mine was asking me about GMing and scenario creation advice. One of the things he asked me has got me thinking a bunch over the last few days, and I thought I’d ask you and the BSers to chime in. He told me, “I’m interested in resources that will help me learn the meta-language of TTRPG game design.” I recommended this podcast of course. But—the meta-language of game design (and I clarified with him that he means scenario rather than game system). How do we talk about about scenarios and scenario creation. I had a few thoughts, of course (I don’t want to leave you empty handed here):
- character centered vs. story centered vs. tactically centered vs. …?
- genre: horror, mystery, heroic fantasy, space opera, etc.
- primary activity: investigation, combat, exploration, etc.
- competitive v. cooperative (I’m thinking here about RPGs w/ PVP at one extreme, varied goals somewhere in the middle, and group quest at the other)
- setting: urban, rural, dungeon, outer space
- duration: one-shot, mini-campaign, campaign and maybe fixed v. unlimited
- fixed cast v. variable cast (West Marches and other drop-in-drop-out games)
- player agency level in world building—not sure if there’s a good term for this
I think what this question comes down to is one of graphing. How many axes (no, not the weapon, you dingbat) would we need in order to plot scenarios on them in a meaningful way?
It seems like with a really good graph, setting expectations would be simplified. Except that we don’t all mean the same thing when we say Western Space Punk, now do we?
Anyway, if you’d like to ramble about this at some point, I’ll be sure and point him to the appropriate episode. Otherwise, I’m having him start at episode one, so it’d be a while.
Blake Ryan writes in a quiz for Brett…
For Sean to Read
Here’s another quiz you can spring on Brett if there’s not many emails in the kitty…
1-What is notable about the faces of Sheelba & Ningauble?
2-What generation of Vampires are Antediluvians?
3-What is one of the more well known names for Iggwilv?
4-What sort of thing is in the Darkness?
5-What is the name of the other powerful sword in the Elric saga? eg not Stormbringer.
6-What armour restrictions do Essence users have in Rolemaster?
7-What kind of special shoes could you get in Avalon?
1-Eyeless face and 7 Eyes, 2-Third, 3-Tasha, 4-Whisperer or Grue, 5-Mournblade, 6-No metal, 7-Iron.
- Adventure Tomes, kickstarter, 21 days as of this recording date
- Mythic Table VTT, article on the platform’s feature here.
- Tabletop Audio (disclaimer, Sean is a patreon)
- D&D Compendium lists of sound and audio resources
- D&D Tomb, 53+ curated encounter music playlists for your next D&D session
- Midnight Syndicate on Amazon
- iJingle, soundboard app