Thursday, April 26, 2012

Improving Your In-Game Setting

There have been slight pushes over the years I've LARPed to improve the look of the tavern/saloon/cantina, and for people to make their sleeping space more in-game.  A period looking gathering place can add a lot of atmosphere - but there are a few issues.

First, there's safety, both of players and of your stuff.  You probably don't want to bring your antiques to a game, or anything that you mind too much getting broken or dirty.  And it's hard to find a way to do open flames that don't run the risk of falling over and catching things on fire.

Second, it's extra work that not many people want to do.  They want to go and have fun, not re-decorate a musty tent or sagging cabin.  But there are a few easy ways, oh reader, to improve your look without breaking your back or your bank.  Some of these have been mentioned before, but they're good ideas!

1.) In-game Lighting - Turning off artificial lights wherever possible makes a huge difference.  Eyes will adjust, although safety should still be #1 concern, and likely your food prep people and NPC shack will always need the extra light.  Speaking of safety, candles and lamps add great atmosphere and provide a good light source.  But make sure you're not violating any regulations.  To avoid danger, use closed, sturdy lanterns, and put them in places where they won't get tipped over.  Electric candles can work pretty well, and while the little battery operated tealights look okay, they don't give much light.  Try to avoid the LED lanterns, as they're bright and don't look at all period - or you can muffle the light with a screen or filter to get the best of both worlds.

2.) Tablecloths for All! - Some cheap fabric can go a long way to hiding immersion-breaking aspects.  If you have time and energy, hang them over those scouting posters and signs in your tavern.  If not, you can use them for tablecloths, or drape them over that old cooler in the corner.  Put them over picnic tables, hang them in doorways, cover the ground in your gypsy circle - the uses are endless!  This one can be tough outdoors in the rain, so some vigilance is required so you aren't dealing with a soggy, muddy mess at the end of the game.

3.) Add Accents - Shop your thrift store for a few period-looking accents on the cheap.  Wooden or metal candlesticks, bowls, platters, etc., can all add to your atmosphere. In your saloon you can use them to put out snacks, in your personal area you can fill them with phys reps of ritual components, or odds and ends your character might have.  You can get wooden boxes and use them to store your stuff too, so they look good and are functional!  :)  If you keep them clean, you can just throw them in a box at the end of the game, and it doesn't get much easier than that!

4.) Set Pieces for Your Setting - Put up things that add to the atmosphere of your particular game.  For example, if you've got an old west saloon (not that I'm biased), put out gambling tables and decks of cards.  You can find chess sets for cheap, or other games that suit you - and they serve a double purpose of entertaining people.  Even outdoor games can work - put a theme-appropriate spin (with a little paint and prop work) on easy things like horseshoes. 

And where is your setting anyway?  People often know the name, but associate your location more with the camp than the in-game terrain. Try putting up maps, flags/banners, or even landscape art of your in-game area.  Do you have an important NPC in your life, like a mentor, elemental master, count, general, or governor?  Put up their picture!  Most games have some kind of resident artist, so enlist their help.  This kind of thing can help PCs visualize where you want to be, and add to the flavor.

5.) Keep it Clean - I've said before that picking up is the nice thing to do, but it also helps with immersion.  It's hard to have a serious role-play moment next to a collection of half-empty Gatorade bottles and a pile of moldy shoes.  :)  Put trash in bins and bags, and keep your personal, non-period stuff away when you can.

Got any more ideas for making your location look good?


    We have been using one of these for lighting with a very soft low watt bulb and they work great. You can hang them from the ceiling with just thumb tacks and they flatten up completely for packing. Also it an easy way for "Color coding" if that's a part of your game.

    1. I blathered on for awhile about something similar at CollabNarration: I think being minimal, but making an impact, is what it's all about. Use cheaper things, like tablecloths and fabric, to drape and accessorize-- make a room really pop with two or three signature pieces (nice chests, magic items, or huge tomes).

      "Keep it clean" is a GREAT tip. Trash bins can make all the difference, as can sequestering away your non-period stuff (I'll be honest, if I'm running late, I often break this rule). Also, getting non-period stuff out of the way decreases the chance of theft if people break into your cabin (a problem at a recent event).