While prepping for my regular Sunday game yesterday, I came across an incredible link on Boing Boing. This might already be floating around out there in the general gaming geekdom, but I hadn’t found it yet and felt it needed sharing! A gamer who seems to go by the online name of Burntwire took two years to build his gaming space into a great place to fit his massive collection, as well as provide some great immersion inducing atmosphere. The photo just above is just one of the many pictures available in the forum post where he details the gaming room he built. You need to go check this thing out.
While looking over this, and seeing some of the forum buzz it created, it struck me that a lot of things done in this room are solely for the game immersion factor. A lot of things he does here are the same kinds of things that I do with my gaming space to keep my players focused and involved. The gaming space you play in is incredibly important to your game. Anyplace with a table (if you need one) will work, but if the space you are gaming in is working against you, then you have a lot more work on your hands. So here are five things to think about in regards to your gaming space.
- The walls are your biggest problem and your biggest asset
When a player isn’t in the spotlight or is feeling slightly bored, the thing that is going to take up most of their visual wandering is the walls of your gaming room. That pineapple wallpaper from the 70s is going to turn them right out of gaming mode if that is what fills most of their vision. If you are playing a fantasy game and the walls look somewhat dungeon-like, then the gamer’s mind is never going to leave that mental space they have while involved in the game.The same goes for sci-fi, horror, western, or any other genre. Sure we can’t redo the walls of our living rooms or basements for every game, but throwing a few props or art that fist the genre of your game up on the walls will help keep a continuous stream of mental immersion into the game world.
- Table props trump room props
The players are going to be looking at the walls sure, but their main focus is going to be on the table. Any visual element there helps the players keep focused in the game. Use bits of scenery, make sure you’ve got minis (even if they aren’t being used in the current action), keep maps interesting even if they aren’t to scale. I can’t overemphasize the importance of the visual space of the gaming table. Even if you are doing maps on the fly, there are little touches for making them nifty. I use Jenga blocks and dominos to build most of my dungeons, but I paint them up to look like dungeon walls and doors. When I make use of ships or airships in a game, I make use of the cardboard ships from various ship trading card games, like Pirates. These little elements keep people visually engaged with the action going on. Even if I can’t make use of appropriate props, I make use of permanent markers and poker chips to represent spacing or the fact that something is on the board.
- Try to remove anything from the room that visually breaks game immersion
Anything in your room that breaks the immersion of the genre you are playing in is bad for the immersion. Burntwire’s awesome setup has speakers hidden in the ceiling, no visible light switches (all controlled by the DM and hidden under the table), an old looking table that doesn’t look modern in any way, and walls that look like dungeon brick. The only modern looking things in the room are the plethora of games he has collected and the closets (a plain grey color). I’m not saying you shouldn’t strip everything electrical out of the room, but you should take minimal steps to cover it up. If you play mostly sci-fi games primarily then make use of dimmer switches or more futuristic lighting options. If you are playing horror games, spread some cobwebs and remove any happy and "warm" items or things from the room. You don’t need to be as extensive as this guy (although seeing his apartment makes me want to rent it and play a star trek game there), but if you are setting up a permanent gaming space, tweak it out to help the types of games you play.
- Background music is great, but it should stay in the background
I love me some background music. I think it is great for game immersion, and Martin covers it in-depth in the article I just linked to, so I’m not going to rehash already great advice. I do want to add to it, though. Music should not play in a space that puts it between you and your players. The biggest lesson I ever had to learn when playing music was to not play it directly off of my laptop. It put the music pointing at me and the sound was something I had to talk over or turn down low (because of the way that humans localize sound). Instead, get some cheap speakers and run them around behind the players, and keep them a decent distance away so that they aren’t right in the players’ ears. This makes the music a factor but not the central one. When you are doing this think about step 3 and try to hid the speakers in a non-visible area or cover them (unless they help build immersion).
- Burntwire’s setup is definitely extensive, but lots of things can just be layered on top of where you already play. Don’t break the bank.
Ok, this is more money saving advice, but it is important. Immersion is important to a game, gaming space is important to immersion, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. No game is going to suffer because the Game Master didn’t spend wads of cash and time on building something awesome. Doing so might help a game, but it isn’t necessary. If you want to do things to liven up the gaming space and help with immersion, there are lots of easy things you can do on the cheap:
- Print out things to use as props for the walls. There are many sites that have generic images for genres like sci-fi, fantasy, etc.
- Use things you may already have (like replica swords – BE SAFE!) to hang on the walls.
- Party stores have wall coverings and really nifty props that are fairly cheap. Need a dungeon wall or a western saloon look – they’ve got it.
- Kid’s craft books have lots of recipes for making things suitable for nifty table props. Paper mache, contractors foam from stores, even cardboard boxes with a little bit of marker drawing can make great terrain. It sure isn’t going to be as professional as purchased or hobby-store created stuff, but it will work.
- Focus in one in-game element for ease of setting up your space. In one shadowrun game I ran I had the group stationed out of a mechanic’s shop. I grabbed some spare tools and a rolling toolbox from the garage. A few adhesive hooks and the toolbox in the corner made the place feel like the shop.
Gaming space can be tweaked out for immersion to great effect. It can be done with small things added onto your gaming room or can be done full bore, like Burntwire’s setup. What steps do you take to tweak out your gaming space? Have you ever had a horrible gaming space that was detrimental to the game? What was the best gaming space you have ever used?