Creating a sense of Immersion in Roleplaying Games

Jacques Linard - The Five Senses and the Four ElementsWe have previously talked about using all the major senses in your roleplaying game – that is, referring to the sounds, smells, describing the way something feels etc. in order to expand the impact of your narrative and pull your players into your game. But why stop at description? Perhaps there’s ways you can bring the different senses to the table in real, tangible form? Can we use the senses to create a much more immersive experience by adding physical elements to the gaming table?

Most people would be aware of the visual elements which can be brought to the table. Everyone knows about LARPing, or nicely painted models, battlemaps and lighting. (I hesitate to use battlemaps and models unless absolutely thematically required – seeing a representation of the physical object can remove the need to imagine the scene and for some people stop immersion. If you’re playing a tactically heavy game, sure, go nuts, but for story driven games I’d go light on the modeling.) There’s even a load of resources for utilizing sound in your games – and I would encourage everyone to start with these tools. Candlelight and thematically appropriate sound effects can be a wonderful way of evoking the correct mood. Try Tabletop Audio for a start. There’s also light bulbs available which can change hue, controlled by your smartphone like Philips Hue or Lifx.

But why not go a little further. Try to think of other ways to bring the other senses to the table. I hesitate to mention smell, given that some people’s gaming table might already be oppressive with the odours of hardly washed adventurers, or scents redolent of sewer adventuring. (You know I’m just joking, right? Right?) But what about other scents? Say the party visits a fortune teller’s tent. Why not light up some incense? Give the experience a little realism, some more immersion. Or how about exploring a musty old basement? Put some mouldering old object from your cellar in a zip lock bag and open the bag up at the appropriate time. Instant musty odour. There are lots of other smells you might be able to procure or make – the smell of cut grass, or a pine forest – the possibilities are endless.

Then there’s the sense of touch. You may have come across the game “This is “Nelson’s…” as a party game as a child. Players were blindfolded, then made to touch various objects – “This is Nelson’s brains!” they would say as they put your hand in cold spaghetti. You could do a similar thing at the right point in time. “Groping about in the dark, your hand comes across what feels like…” Or perhaps you could mess with your player’s sense of balance. Say your player has just been hit with a mind-bending spell – have your player sit in an office chair and whirl around a dozen times or so.

Taste, of course, is an easy one. Our Evil GM back in my undergrad days would concoct a hideous drink which you had to imbibe if your player drank a potion. Perhaps serve mead at the gaming table, or reproduce some historical meal. Make it real.

There’s loads of other possibilities out there. Hopefully, by invoking senses usually ignored during the gaming experience you will create a truly memorable and immersive game.

DriveThruRPG.com

About Paul

Cuchulain (otherwise known as Paul) has been playing roleplaying games since he was 10 years old. Although he'll play any game under the sun, he prefers characterisation and plot over tactics and mechanics. He is never happier than when playing in or mastering a horror campaign - preferably with heavy Cthulhu Mythos overtones or theme.
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