Making Props for Game Immersion

Creating immersion can be as difficult as building a set for theatre… with as much work too.

Previously, I talked about using props in games to create a deeper immersion. Today, I’m going to talk about creating some props you can use in those games. Most of what I will include will be tips and tricks, but most importantly, I will include some instruction links, some resource links that we use, and a YouTube video I have found most helpful. I’m also going to include tips and tricks to help things not be super messy. First up, we’ll cover making real props for the day that we get to go back to face to face gaming (after we get past all this COVID business).

Physical Props

One of the most common props used at a gaming table are stained and burned letters. In order to make these, you’re going to need a cookie sheet, plastic wrap, some coffee or tea, a white wax crayon, a blue wax crayon,  and heavy weight paper or card stock. I typically don’t use standard copier paper because it’s flimsy when wet and tends to get brittle when it dries. Cardstock will stand up the most, but will also take the longest to do. Heavy weight paper is typically a fair middle ground.

To stain, you’re going to place a cookie sheet down, then plastic wrap to cover it. Don’t make the plastic wrap completely flat, instead let it wrinkle and crumple slightly, this will be important later. Next you’re going to create your stain mix, I typically use tea or coffee. Used is perfectly fine and is often even better as long as it’s not sugared. Sugar is bad for this. I typically use a one-to-one ratio, one tablespoon of coffee to one cup of hot water and then let it steep to a darker shade than the end result desired (the white of the paper will lighten it). For example if you want a light brown, make sure you steep to a medium brown. You can also use strips of identical paper to do dip tests to check the coloring. The shade will also get lighter as it dries. 

To create white splotches in your paper, use the white wax crayon to create them. Use it on both sides if you want it to stay mostly white, or just on one side if you just want a faded effect. Make sure you only use a light pressure with the crayon, and feel free to experiment. Note also that “imperfections” or irregular shapes look better than neat ones. Staining the paper is as simple as pouring. You lay the paper down on the prepared cookie sheet and then just slowly pour the coffee or tea. If you want the wave ripple, you pour on one side and then fan it across the paper so that the paper is affected by the wrinkle of the plastic wrap. 

To burn the recently made parchment paper first it needs to be completely dry. You want to make that nice edging burn, for this you’ll use the blue crayon. What you want to do is mark where you want the burn to end with a dark blue line. Then slowly you burn the paper to that point. Wax melts at a lower temperature than paper burns, so when the wax starts melting you know to put the fire out. It also helps you keep from setting the entire paper on fire. After that it’s just a matter of writing the letter. Here is a link on WikiHow on how to do this as well as a YouTube video below

Other props can be both time consuming and money intensive, from tokens/coins all the way up to intricate 3-D printed props or hand-crafted models. Make sure you take the time to do thorough research before you leap into it. My favorite place for doing that with traditional crafts is Pinterest. Creating an account is free and there are tons of people who share crafting and prop-making ideas there (not to mention the photos and character concept art which is the biggest reason we use it). For the other things, I would look at some more technical blogs. There are many “specialist bloggers/vloggers” that do fantastic work with crafting and prop-making, some specifically in the tabletop roleplaying space. I’m not going to go into specific detail here because I would be here for hours covering all the props you can make. 

Digital Props

Josh and I typically use Roll20 for our digital games, and in them is the Handout. The beauty of the Handout is that you can include images in place of just writing in the text, so you can make a digital version of your letter or note, then give it to the player. I’m not a great artist, so I use places like Pixabay for my art, or I manipulate photographs into unique looks when I need to give them a picture of what they’re looking at using tools like GIMP or Artbreeder. Making digital props can be as complicated or as easy as you want to make it.  Another great tool to combine in with doing this is TokenTool from RPTools that allows you to create digital tokens for use on maps using your own images. So if you find character art or cool monsters on Pinterest and want to use them digitally in your games, it’s a great help.

You can also take pictures of physical props and send them to your player. While it might not give the same experience as holding it for them, it’ll be something fun for you to talk about later. I hope this helped and you enjoyed this short post. Happy gaming!

  • Joann Walles

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