Monday, January 18, 2010

Papers Please: Using Props to set the Tone in Convention Games

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Since I'm relatively new to the whole 'blogging game, I've been asking friends who are experienced 'bloggers what they'd like to read about at Motor City Gamewerks. Chris Perrin, proprietor of both the Echoes from the Rifts podcast and the delectable Blog Well Done and all around good egg, suggested I talk about my con games and the prep that I put into them. So, without further ado, lets you and me talk about using props in con games to set the right tone.

Whenever I run a game at a convention like Origins or GenCon, my job is to entertain the people who've paid their hard-earned money to sit at my table. I run games in four hour blocks, which typically leaves precious little time for exposition or setting the tone of a game. Since this is the case, I like to use props and handouts to help players get into the mood of a given setting quickly so that we can get on with the story.

For this post, I'll use my AEGIS vs. SPIDER games as an example. AvS is a super hero/superspy mash-up that I run where the players take on the role of super powered espionage agents fighting similarly powered Soviet agents during the height of the Cold War. Since a game set in the late-50s/early-60s has a very different feel than one set in modern times, I've created a series of handouts and props in an attempt to really put the characters in the right mid-century frame of mind.

The first thing players see when they sit down for some AvS is a black binder with an imposing, Soviet-style official seal on the cover in red and gold and complete with the hammer and sickle. Once the introductions are complete and I give a short synopsis of what AvS is all about, I pull out a stack of manila folders with a different official seal on them and stamped "Confidential" in big red letters. These are the files for each of the playable characters in the game, and they contain the character sheet, a short personnel dossier and a photo of the character. I've typed these up in a fair approximation of official government documents, and use a typewriter style font to, again, set the tone. With the dossier, the players get a rough idea of their character's personality and motivations, which helps them role-play a completely unknown character and serves to add depth to what is, essentially, a four hour one-off demo.

Along with the dossiers, I use a lot of photography in AvS. As I mentioned earlier, each of the character files comes with a photo of the character. Since each character is a World War II veteran, I did Google image searches for what I was looking for, say, "WWII US Navy officer" or "761st tank battalion". Once I find a suitable photo for a character, I print it out on actual photo paper and include it in the character file. Like the character dossier, I feel that this immerses the player even more in the setting and makes for better role-playing. I also use photos as general props in the game. I've used Google Earth screen captures as high-altitude reconnaissance photos, historical photos of crowds or specific scenes, such as Checkpoint Charlie, and even period correct advertisements and propaganda posters. All of this is engineered to put the players in the right frame of mind, and to add a little bit of verisimilitude.

Since I've spent all this time talking about pictures, I'll finish with a slideshow of some samples of the props I use for AEGIS vs. SPIDER. Everyone likes a story with pictures, right?

Feel free to click through to the album to read a little more info on each image.

1 comment:

Mikey97D said...

Good stuff! I've been using Google Earth also, but I like how you manipulated the screen capture and put the hand written date in including the year first addition.