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.

Tips on starting RPGs

So you finally decided that you want to try role playing games for yourself. Good! We are a very welcoming bunch and are hardly known to turn down players! I love RPGs because they encourage thinking on the fly, storytelling, and having fun.

I’d recommend joining an established RPG group to learn the ropes. They can be found among friends, local game shops, etc. However, if you want to be the pioneer among your friends you can be the one to pick it up. Here’s some tips.

Continue reading Tips on starting RPGs

Storytelling and RPGs

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a huge nerd. I absolutely love role playing games; both running them and playing in them.  I run into one problem though: I get sidetracked by other games.

The games I play in I have a blast with, so that’s not the problem. It’s when I run games that I get distracted. Lately I’ve been running Traveller. Traveller is a space opera, in which players generally find themselves moving across a subsector of space, scraping by and high-tailing it from one system to the next. In a word, it’s basically Firefly the RPG, more so than the original Firefly RPG.

Continue reading Storytelling and RPGs

On Camping

So I’ve just returned from one of our trips to my friend Graham’s farm. Outside of spooky noises and finding bear droppings close to our camp (turns out we camped near a game trail) not too much spooky stuff happened.

I told stories of Skinwalkers, the Wendigo, and Black Eyed Children around the campfire as I’m expected at this point to do. We listened to some music and chatted, but we mainly relaxed.

It’s funny, but stomping through the woods with a full pack, or chopping wood for a fire, well it sucks, but it’s also so very relaxing. I was isolated from technology for two days and realize I needed the break.

However, that’s not what inspired me to write this post. What prompted it were some of my thoughts on camping and safety. It seems so strange to me that we think of tents and tarps as protection from the unknown. I know that I’m sitting in a room made of material thinner than my t-shirt, but for some reason I feel safer than exposed. Could be an ‘I can’t see you, you can’t see me,’ kind of thing, but it still interests me.

After talking about malevolent creatures that can only come in if you invite them, I questioned my friends as to whether or not tents counted as your property when set up. Does it count as a home, and would it keep out traditional vampires, or Skinwalkers?

The general consensus was yes.

Even in the deepest of the wild we still cling to notions of home and safety; that there are rules to be followed. It pops up in my stories, and in our interactions with nature.

One of the brighter spots of the trip was our hike into the woods themselves. We just followed a game trail and came upon what felt like abandoned hunting blinds every 500 feet. In one of them, a big fat porcupine had chewed out a corner to squeeze in and make a home. We were able to peek in and take a look without being in any danger, or endangering the animal. It was a neat little up close encounter with nature that wasn’t the normal deer or coyote we generally run into.

Unfortunately our hike was cut short by the sound of gunshots somewhere deeper into the forest, so we returned to our camp.

One interesting thing I noticed is that we all settled into roles. We had a guy who made fire, the guy who organized everyone, the guy who chopped firewood. I still don’t know what my role was, maybe the storyteller, maybe the comic relief, I have no clue.

So, even though we huddled in the firelight, and listened to voices in the forest from a cabin somewhere beyond our property, we had a great time. A lot of work, but a lot of relaxation.

Still, night-time brought that familiar feeling out in all of us. That fear of the unknown. The fear of what may be lurking in the dark. Of waking up the next morning and seeing how close deer had bedded to our camp, or how coyote droppings were only twenty feet away from the furthest tent.

That’s why we go though, to see things and experience what most people don’t care to, and for just a moment, be irrationally scared before we head back to civilization. Just for the relaxation, yet also the rush.

Stalled

Gary saw her first and yelled at Tom to stop the bulldozer. The dozer ground to a halt just before knocking into the first support column of the horse barn before us. It wasn’t like any kind of barn I had seen before at least. Owners said it was a breeding barn. 86 stalls where they would try and breed race horses. A lot different than the barns you see on TV. Not painted red wood or anything like that, but made of sheet metal.

Continue reading Stalled

The Tunnels – WFTI Podcast

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to share that our newest podcast is out! It’s based on a story that hasn’t appeared on the site yet, and I hope you enjoy it. So far we’ve put the most work in to this one and I think it shows. As always, thanks to Graham for the great audio work.

Enjoy, and if you like it, subscribe to the channel and like the video! You can do this through clicking the “Watch on Youtube” video on the player.

And now, “The Tunnels.”

Thanks!

Chris

On failure

I’ve been recently told that I need to slow down on my projects or I’ll burn myself out. This is a valid concern (given my New Years pushups and running resolutions) however with writing and my side projects, I feel like slowing down will burn myself out. I am enjoying creating content for others to read. I can only hope it’s entertaining, but the goal here is to create something worthy of just two minutes of someone’s time. Just a year ago around this time I heavily started writing. I’ve always written, but I wouldn’t have called myself a writer until then.

Back then, I was terrified of criticism. I would worry about each piece I was thinking of showing to people, and then show them only to select groups from where I knew I would get positive feedback. I would never dare put my writing up online for fear that someone wouldn’t like it. Just getting one negative review would be enough to throw me into a shame spiral. But you know what? Now I don’t really care about that.

I just started on YouTube working on my podcast. It has been a long time in the making, and my friend Graham is lending his amazing sound mastering experience to help supplement my writing. We’ve gotten pretty positive responses, but also something that I’m not used to. Now, for the first time I’ve received visibly negative feedback.

I got my first dislike, my friends.

What would originally have destroyed me has actually inspired me. I try and think of what I can do differently for the next video instead of beating myself up about it. When I look at my project’s failings, it’s not out of self-pity, but to continue to improve and thrive.

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had scrapped the work on my novel. People I know, to put it simply, politely freaked out. They worried about all the time I put in to the current drafts. What they didn’t realize was that I was already on my third attempt at the same story that just wasn’t working. I had invested all told about 40,000 words on writing that I was trying to force to work. Now I don’t believe that all writing is inspiration and magically flows through you or some such. Writing is work, in some cases harder than other things. But when you can’t shake an idea and keep it as a sacred cow, you can’t improve on it.

So, I scrapped it. There are still copies of it on my hard drive so I can’t say I dramatically burned the thing to the ground, but I no longer consult them. I started writing fresh and shed the plot elements I was so concerned were needed, and ended up having my characters take me to where I needed them to be. Yes, writing is work, but sometimes there are those moments when the words talk back to you. You just put them to paper and they glow. Other times you stare out the windows wracking your brain for the next big step.

The dislike on my video was more puzzling than disheartening, but I get it. A week ago I sent Graham a new cut of recordings I did for the next episode of the podcast. I waited for a response because I wanted to get in to it, and he replied that I had made my voice so gravelly and stuttered that I sounded like a barely literate Batman. I thought I had sounded creepy, he thought that me being ‘creepy’ sounded like I didn’t know how to pronounce the word ‘exercises.’ He was brutally honest about it, and I loved it. I learned more about recording in that 5 minute conversation than spending time trying to figure out what I think people would like. It’s been one of the most helpful criticisms I’ve gotten in my career.

Like any other blooming YouTube sensation, I tend to exaggerate but I also watch my click-through-rate and advertising statistics. They make sense to me now. They ebb and flow just like everything else and the goal to getting views isn’t just good marketing, but also providing great content. I had run ad campaigns that shot up my views, but did little to keep people except for a dedicated core of viewers and readers around. I was getting my 15 minutes without any of the benefits.

Moving forward, I’m working on making myself better in all ways. I’ve started doing my pushups again, and now I’m learning how to use video editing software in addition to the sound aspect of the project. Graham has his own projects to worry about, so the more I can help him with the mundane aspects of the editing the better. But I need to start considering my technical skills in addition to my creative ones. Graham is awesome with sound because not only is he a skilled musician, but he’s also passionate about all aspects of recording music. Thanks to this podcast, he’s transitioning into Foley work as well. It is as new a field to him as recording and video making is to me.

That’s what I need to learn how to do. Not just focus on the technical or creative aspect, but both. They can live together in harmony and don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I can watch CTR’s and also not compromise myself as an artist or whatever pretentious spin you want to put on it. People will like things, people will hate things, but if you want to be successful you need to keep putting out work, and scrap your sacred cows when they aren’t working for you.

I was so afraid of failure with the podcast initially that we had the episode recorded for months before it actually hit the internet. It was my first foray into the audio arena of the internet, and while it isn’t perfect, it was a start. Scrapping my novel and starting over has been the best decision I’ve made yet, as I’ve written more in two days based around the same general elements than I have in the last month on this project. It all comes down to not being afraid to admit failure, but not letting that failure stop you or slow you down. That’s how we learn and that’s how we prosper. If I hadn’t gotten rid of my flawed progress on my story, I would be rewriting the same 40,000 words. Just spinning my wheels unhappy with everything, but since I had already gotten that far, there was nothing I was able to do.

Getting that far is only part of the trip, the other is making sure the journey is worth it. If Wally World is closed, savor the journey, but also turn the damn car around and go to Disneyland.

Thoughts, horror, and short stories from Chris Burcham, published freelance author and all around scoundrel.