Props for RPGs

I love to use props and hand-outs in my games. For my Call of Cthulhu games, I always made up one-page “newspapers” as the campaign progressed. This is a trivial matter with any decent word processor and a fancy gothic font for the newspaper logo.

Then of course that game had the use of hand-outs built-in. For other games, I created maps or documents. These are trivial to create, too – thanks to modern graphics software, cheap printers, and huge libraries of samples and clipart. You can age them by washing them with coffee or tea, rip off the edges of the paper, and perhaps even use a candle to singe them to make them look less like printer paper.

However, I’ve never really used physical props – back in the day I simply didn’t have money for that, and I never did much research into it. If I were to game again, I’d certainly change that. There’s a lot of cool stuff available, and some of it is even really cheap.

  • Tsojcanth had an excellent idea of using note-books as big collections of mini-dungeons, but the same would work really well as an adventurer’s diary or some such. The effort to create one of these is fairly large though, especially since you need to write into them by hand. Still, if you base a campaign around one of these, it might work out really, really well. It can work in all settings – notes from an adventurer about hidden treasure and dungeons; notes a star trader makes about various systems (he’s using paper because he is afraid a data file would be too easy to copy).
  • There’s websites that sell assorted “magic wands – I am not quite sure if this means there are actually people out there who believe these would let them cast spells, but I probably don’t want to know. Be that as it may, these wands, their amulets, and other items should work really well as props and some of them are quite cheap. I mean, how can you go wrong with, say, a set of runes? They also sell blank journals, which you could use for Tsojcanth’s mini-dungeon idea, but they are much more expensive than modern journals.
  • Jewelry in general is not a problem. You can just google or search on eBay or Amazon for necklaces, pendants, rings, and so on. For example, Walmart sells personalized engraved rings startung at $50 – but it seems other sites offer engraved rings for $10 or so too. Again, Google is your friend, and the possibilities are endless – For example, I imagine buying one ring with an engraving that hints at the royal family, and give it to one of the characters, who has no recollection of how he got it – but no sooner does the game start that assassins are after him because of the ring.
  • Playing cards are another awesome prop. You can buy plain cards to print on yourself, or you can even get a company to professionally print your custom cards these days. Ideas here are endless: You could create cards that together make up a treasure map; you could go the Amber route and create Tarot cards with the player characters as trumps – and the players will of course want to know why these cards exist, and what they are for! Or the cards could combine in any other way to give hints that the players need, and finding these cards would then be the objective of the first sessions of the campaign, with the final climactic episodes confronting whatever evil the cards led your players to.
  • In Curse of the Azure Bonds, the player characters awake with weird tattoos on their arms. Now, taking your players to the local tattoo parlor might be a little extreme – but you could use temporary tattoos for a similar situation in your campaign. Amazon sells a lot of different designs.
  • For a modern game, consider modern props. Dot matrix printers are out, but you can still simulate the look reasonably well with the right fonts. How about a USB flash drive? Don’t use just any plain flash drive, unless this is appropriate. These days, even a kid or teenager might store a diary or photos on a flash drive, and she might use one that is shaped like a goofy comic book character or adorable little animal. A memory card for a phone or digital camera might contain photos that give the players important clues. Of course these work best if you use PCs at your gaming table, or at least have one in your gaming room.
  • Fake business cards are easily printed, too. You should get a thin cardboard for these, though. Most office supplies shops will sell you sets of prepared business card paper that you can simply print on. In a campaign where the players are professionals, they could have business cards for their characters.

This is what I’ve come up so far. I am sure there are many more ways to add cool props to your games.

What props have you used, or do you want to use in the future?

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