The Do's and Don'ts of Props In Your D&D Game

Elementics (Top Left), Southern Grayland Map (Top Right), Darfield Sewer Map (Bottom Left), Nikovarian Letter (Bottom Right)
One way to include spark of creativity, increase role play and give players and characters a way to connect with your world is through the introduction of props. Letters, Maps, Make-up! All are great choices, but of course adding props can take a lot of time, effort, and sometimes can serve as more of a distraction from the game than an actually improving game play.

Striking the balance between engaging and superfluous can be a hard one, so here are the do's and don'ts of using Props in a Dungeons and Dragons Campaign.

The Battle of Bellwick

1. Do: Give Your Player Physical Maps

My absolute favourite prop to give players is a map of the areas that matter to them. Above we have a map of the Town of Bellwick, the setting of JADE's log ended Conquest of Frey Campaign, that Dave created for us. We purchased this map in game (an important step to connect the map to the players and characters) and used it to guide our progress as we attempted to conquer the city.

It was incredibly useful for us to be able to plan and discuss how to attack and move about the city with an actual reference. And since it was also an "in-game item" even our crude pencil sketches on the map can be said to have been created by our characters, providing a further connection to what is happening in the world around them.

Maps let the players know where they are, and allows them to create their own notes and reference points about the world around them. And it doesn't have to be well drawn; even a rough pencil sketch will be appreciated. In my humble opinion there is no better prop for immersion. 

Standard D&D Currency

2. Do Not: Give Your Players Tokens to Represent Their Cash

Before I begin I would like to make a quick disclaimer that I think coin props are really cool. There are a ton of great companies out there who make gorgeous tabletop currency for you to use. So if you would like to include them in your game it because you also think they is cool, then go for it!

However, in terms of usefulness I am not entirely sure what they bring to the table, beyond something to fiddle with. Sure you could argue that they represent a player's pocket change, but beyond physically handing coins back and forth, it isn't actually much different than just recording the number on paper. It seems to me that it would be unlikely that you would use the coins to plan anything substantial in game (beyond counting them), and so I think they are more of  a distraction then an immersive tool.

What do you think about this sort of tabletop currency?

3. Do: Create Letters and Notes to Hand Out Around the Tabletop

The classic "deliver a letter to X" quest has been a staple of D&D games and computer based RPGs for ages. It is a simple and reliable way to get low level characters to move to a new location, meet NPCs, and complete the first stretch of their adventure.

If you actually take the time to create the letter, as I did above for the Nikovarian Letter, it will add a sense of realism to your game. Is language indecipherable? Is there a hidden code? Does the message have a nefarious purpose? These are all questions that your players will be able to answer themselves by simply examining the letter prop you gave them. It also serves as an in game piece of paper for the characters to write on, so that's pretty useful too.

The main advantage to letters, is that it is as easy as writing them and folding them shut to create them as prop. I went a little further with sealing wax and secrets in my example above. But in the end it was an easy prop to get together, and the debates on whether or not they would open the letter raged for the entire session; until it was delivered.

I think these are the Druid Artifacts from the D&D 5 Player's Handbook? I didn't look at the rest of the page lol.

4. Do Not: Create Trinkets for Every Notable Object

Are you a jeweler, blacksmith, or other skilled craftsman? No? Me neither. And if you are that's great! However, you probably have more important things to be doing than crafting game items... Such as writing the game, or studying your module, preparing encounters etc. etc.

And even if you do have the time, where are you going to keep these items so they don't get lost, but stay meaningful to the game? And how much money are you willing to invest?

All in all if you really want this sort of prop... Sure, go for it. But there are better and more immersive uses of your time, and this should only be considered as a finishing touch if at all.

From one of our Halloween Call of Cthulhu games.

5. Do: Encourage Your Players to Dress Up as Much as They Are Comfortable

At JADE, we dress up once a year, and that's for our Halloween game,which the trials of regular life have sadly postponed for the past two years. To the point though, beyond this game no one in our group is interested in dressing up as their character. We are not cosplayers.

But if you or someone in your group is into that sort of cosplay don't harsh on them! That is a level of commitment to role play that few players are willing take. They should applauded, not shamed. All it will do is add to their immersion.

This Should be Your Costume

6. Do Not: Dress Up as a Specific Character When You Are the DM

You can see me in the costume picture above: bottom left. I am wearing my simple black cultist robes. It is incredibly neutral garb, and I have been accused of not having much of a costume compared to everyone else... Even our sheet ghost.

However, I always respond with the line "But I am every other character in game. That's my costume." And it is true, as the DM you must wear many masks to represent every NPC the players interact with. So unless you are planning some serious costume changes. You should keep any costume you are wearing as neutral as possible. Think stage black. This for example, is how you avoid having someone dressed as an Orc talking to you as the King of the Elves.

The Board for Elementics

7. Do: Make up and Play Games Within Your D&D Campaign

To end on a positive note I want to give a particular shout out to Jeff. For a bar room gambling encounter, Jeff created the Elementics Board game: going well above and beyond the call of duty for a Dungeon Master.

Jeff based his game off of a checkers variant that he saw in Assassin's Creed III, modified it, and changed the rules to fit his world's lore. It was used as a tool to introduce the world's ten element system to us and it worked really well, as we also learned what element could counter what: a major component of the largely puzzle based campaign.

You do not need to go as far a Jeff went, but busting out a deck of cards, or some Vegas dice to play craps is a great way to add a random element to the game that is beyond the DM's and the player's control. So deal out a hand of poker with them, play blackjack, shoot some craps, stage cock fights (that's a joke), whatever! It is a nice diversion, and will the give the players a reason to remember that location, and perhaps even for their characters to develop an interest or preference for certain types of gambling and games.

What other props does your group bring to the table? And do you think they help or hinder the game? Let us know in the comment bellow!

Written By: Andrew Gregory

The Do's and Don'ts of Props In Your D&D Game The Do's and Don'ts of Props In Your D&D Game Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 11/15/2019 01:05:00 pm Rating: 5

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