Roleplaying Atmosphere - Your Ideas and Experience?


Hi all,

the way how to establish and maintain an exciting atmosphere is by sure the big question of each game master in any pen & paper role-playing game. However, I would like to discuss this topic here in the Legend forum, since things like specific role-playing rules and the nature of the world an adventure takes place, are somewhat connected to the questions and answers around this theme. I would like to start the discussion with a few ideas, and would be glad to get feedback on your comments and experiences:

1) Sounds

In our group we experiment with different approaches how to implement sounds to deepen atmosphere, even if we know that what you imagine is often more intense than what you really hear. We made the experience that gentle, non-specific background noise such as 'tavern', 'marketplace', 'harbour' or just simple 'wind in the trees' is quite useful to bind the players into the scene. The sudden and unexpected roar of a monster also can help to keep players awake ... and combat sounds seem to speed up fights since less time is spent for discussions and jokes when you hear clashing swords and yells.

2) Scene Intro

If a party enters e. g. a room or a city - what should the game master explain as intro, how detailed should he tell the players what they see, hear and smell? We made a good experience using a very rudimentary approach: Tell the players only what they should realize the very first second (e. g. "a dark big room with a door opposite, a rotten smell, something moving in the right back corner") . Anything else (furniture, nature or floor and ceiling, ...) needs to be asked by the player, even if the players should be able to detect it without throwing the dice.

3) Visual Imagination

Also here, what you imagine is often more intense than what you really see. On the other hand, imagination is limited ... so when is it helpful to show pictures of scenes, monsters, things, and when it's better to project imagination into the brain of the players using strong words?

4) Secrets between Players

In many situations, not all players see and hear the same, especially when they are separated in a combat - even if only a few meters apart. Now the game master can really split the players into different rooms and move around between them, which takes much time and hereby fades atmosphere. Or the players keep in the same room, and try to act as they don't know what they know ... which can really be difficult, especially if a character needs help, but his comrades cannot know what the players know.

Please feel free to let me read your ideas on these an other topics!


Cosmic Mongoose
We tend to avoid background noise, as we get older it gets more and more difficult to hear over background noise.

When PCs enter a place, I give a very quick rundown. "You come into a cave, the walls are a grey slick rock with water running down into a stream that fills the back of the cave", with other things appearing when they look around or go into the place.

I only use pictures if the place is stunning or impressive, or complex to describe. Otherwise, I have to spend ages downloading pictures to my tablet and finding them.

As for player secrets, we have the concept of player knowledge and character knowledge, so we can generally separate what the players know and what the PCs know. We used to go into a separate room, but I haven't done that for years as it isn't much fun for the other players.