The Importance of Atmosphere

Okay, so now you’ve gotten a game off the ground. While your storytelling abilities are still going to be evolving, there is one thing you can handle right off the bat that will drastically change the experience for your players.

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Atmosphere.

Atmosphere is essential for role playing games. Since RPGs exist only in the mind’s eye of the players and the game master, anything that can add to that experience helps the immersion and ability to stay in character. Here’s five things that can help add a little something to your gaming session.

Basic things to help atmosphere

Music and Sound Effects

The right music can be something that is easily incorporated into the game without being distracting. With YouTube having 10 hr video’s of instrumental music, you should be able to find any type of backing track from Celtic themes, 1920’s jazz, or futuristic space-beats.

Any GM with access to a laptop, PC, or IPod should be able to work out some kind of music to play. For when I run Dragon Age for instance, I use a mixture of the Dragon Age soundtrack, and Skyrim’s soundtrack. Listen to some of the songs and find those that are mellow and perfect to play when the characters are in their downtime, or chaotic ones for hectic battles.

Ambient noise that can be tailored to your session is also a nice touch. One website I’d recommend checking out is tabletopaudio.com. They offer free ambient and music tracks for all sorts of genre’s, from dungeon crawlers to monster attacks to daily life on a space station. Just having the humming of starship engines in the background over a quiet music track can help more than any description of the engines rumbling underneath the player’s feet.

Finally, sound effects. If you want to get very theatrical, start using sound effects to punctuate things like a scream or bolt of lightning. If going for a horror game, realistic sound effects can help bridge the gap between cheesiness and horror.

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Lighting

Your light situation can also influence the feel of a game. For instance, in college I would run Call of Cthulhu
strictly by the light of tea candles. Just get a dozen or more and keep them on a non-flammable surface (careful of wax too!) and make sure the table can read their character sheets. This is going to sound horrible of me, but I made my future wife cry after blowing out the lights at the end of the game.

If you have access to a fireplace, the crackling fire can be the perfect atmosphere adjuster for a dungeoneering adventurer’s inn or campsite.  Or, a barely screwed-in, flickering bulb among other harsh lighting can suggest a spacecraft with failing systems.

Let me know what you think!