Monday, June 13, 2005

Stage Management and Multimedia: ( a Propmaster at Work sequel.)

It seems contradictory. Gaming is both a mental and experiential exercise. We always speak of games as something we did or as something that happened to us, like, " I remember one time when we were trapped in the forest and the big spiders came out looking for us and all we had to defend ourselves with was a butter knife and a jar of mentholated slave..It was intense!"

Now, you know, and I know, that this never really happened. Some folks sat around a table and talked about what was happening in the game world. But to us it had a certain reality.

Games reach a level of reality in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it's the story alone. Sometimes the game master is a genius at drawing the players into the world with nothing more than his voice. There are, however, a lot of tricks that have worked over the years to get players into the mood.

Lighting change:

If you have a dimmer switch,great. If not, you may have to resort to other types of cues to get players in the gaming mindset. When lights are low people tend to get more imaginative. Some exploit this tendency through the use of candles and the ritualistic lighting thereof. Some opt for a more high-tech possibility like colored light bulbs and such. There is only one real problem with this. It can make reading dice and character sheets difficult. Don't get me wrong I'm for anything that involves cueing the gamers to shift from this world to that world, but be practical. You know?


This is an oft debated topic. Music and games seem to go together like chili and hot-dogs but there are a few good guidelines for making a soundtrack to your games.

1) Music is about setting the scene and as such when you decide to put together soundtracks it should be with an eye towards creating moods.Since this is the case,concentrate more on the form and instrumentation of the music rather than it's lyrical content. If the players are listening to the lyrics they aren't listening to YOU.

Example: I decided to create 3 separate soundtracks for my Mage game. Since it had a very urban feel to it and was set in New York I decided on music that was grungy and angsty for my soundtracks. The first tape was entitled Dying in the Streets and featured stuff like Living Colour,Alice in Chains,some cuts off the Blade soundtrack and a few of Virtuosity as well. It was fast and hard and vicious and low down. It doubled for my Combat mix. Soundtrack 2 was the night life mix and as such was titled Clubbed to Death I went for a very sexy mix of My life with Thrill Kill Kult, Lords of Acid,Crystal Method and Juno Reactor. Still energetic but smoother in feel. Soundtrack 3 was the the overnight mix entitled "The City shuts it's Eyes" I decided that I wanted music that sounded like crying. With this in mind, I went through my collection looking for any appropriate music that had saxophone in it. I found a few good pieces and then supplemented it with a bit of low down techno that had a steady beat. (Massive Attack is great for this.) at first I started to put together a very languid compilation of tunes but I soon realized the kind of narcotizing effect this would have on my players.

2) Music should be easily accessible and easily changeable. The greatest innovation for this is a multi-CD changer with a remote control. But since this is expensive the best you can do is have the music preplanned in advance and have it ready to go. If this means spending a few minutes cueing up tapes and sorting out CD's beforehand then so be it. If your scene is unfolding, then you say. "wait a minute." and spend 10 minutes finding the right song. Then the song, and the scene, are going to seem anticlimactic and forced.

3) Music is actually best for getting players into the right frame of mind before the game actually starts.(Sort of like an overture) Odds are fairly good that since you are the first person there, you can just set up the music and then go about your other preparations while the others arrive. If nothing else, at least the music will shape your mood and the players will at least pick up on that.

4) Loud music detracts. Lyrics can also distract. If your players are having to shout over the boom box, or worse, are beginning to sing along under their breath. It's time to turn the damn thing down.

5) just as Music is good for an overture it is also good to find a bit of music to end the session with.The right songs can extend the emotions that the game stirred up well into the night. This, of course, is entirely optional and not always appropriate. I do not recommend using music to defuse situations that came up in the game. Playing lighthearted or humorous music at the end of a session in which a beloved NPC dies basically trivializes the players feelings and won't make them feel better anyway.

Sounds effects:

Whenever game mastering, I always try to do so in front of my Macintosh. It is a dream I have to own a really good PowerBook and be able to take it to conventions to run games. I use my computer to house my character and NPC database but I also use it to add to the game experience.

I've created a library of sounds from various websites for use in my games. These sounds are available to me with a simple double click or if I like I can make a macro program that will assign sounds to keystrokes. A few of the sounds that I've collected are:

Gun shot sounds of all types.

a fire burning.

hurricane force winds

wolf howls


energy blast effects

earthquake rumblings

and lots more...


In this same vein I have started to collect a few common pieces of digital movies for use in the game. (I 've got a great movie of a building exploding and a few other neat little gems.) This also is a good thing to have set up ahead of time if you can manage. I suggest putting all of your multimedia files in the same folder and connect it to the same folder that you keep your game stuff in. Imagine the look on your players faces when you go. "And it looks a little something like this!"

I am not recommending however that you get some heavy weight digital video authoring software and creating your own movies unless you are deeply involved in doing that sort of thing already. Mainly because even if you are a genius at this stuff. It is hugely time intensive.

If you know of a good website with movie clips of a general nature then I would love to know about it and would be willing to post it here.

Other tricks:

Who says that the game only has to take place during the game? With E-mail,instant messaging, regular snail mail and phone service you can ambush your players with new developments at any time. Believe me it's fun. Don't overdo it though or they'll start to avoid you.

I heard of a neat trick that a GM used to goose his players into action. He had placed a call to a friend that his gamers didn't know and gave him a quick script and a time to call back. After his gamers had arrived they were into pregame chat when the phone call came. The GM nonchalantly asked his player to answer the phone. When he answered the phone call he was addressed by his character name and he was told this:

"listen you don't know me and I don't have time to explain... They've found you. Their satellite will be in a position to fire in less than 30 seconds. You've got to get out of the house NOW!"

At which point the caller hung up and the GM surreptitiously set a timer for 30 seconds.

Now if that doesn't get your players moving. I don't know what will.

Sono Finito.

(Postscript: I am now the proud possessor of both an Ibook and an Ipod. I may talk for a bit, in the future, on their uses as well.)


At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....The problem with music is that it makes it difficult for everyone to hear. I've used bits and pieces here and there, but not as background. I've got a computer in the dining room (where we play), and another machine in the living room with loud 5+1 speakers, so I'm not t-t-trying to p-play MP3s with 30 Word documents and an Excel combat spreadsheet open! Hint: you can edit MP3 title/artist tags with MusicMatch and other programs so that "Kathy Glens" is playing that song, from the "Under a Blood Red Moon" album if anyone looks at the screen. Playlists are really handy in lieu of CD changers and file hunting.

.....The Ipod in a player's hands is a terrible thing. They can ignore an entire combat, then whine "What? I'm dead? When did that happen?"

.....Laptops are excellent, for both the player and the ref. For some reason, notes kept that way are just naturally more organized! It's also a way of chronicling those off-hand rulings. ("Ah-HAH! Back on 6/29/2001, in this email, you said that those two items WOULD add together!")



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