We are huge fans of increasing immersion (and by extension, engagement) at the D&D table. We get pretty serious about it and discuss some of the ways that we have dialed it up during our duet game in our post all about Supporting In-Session Immersion. In many ways, this is a companion piece to that one!
We also love companies like Cantrip Candles and Heroforge and creators like Miguel Zavala and Patrick McGill who make props, minis, and maps we can use at the table. We have gotten extensive use out of our Flashforge Finder 3D Printer. We also really enjoy our Wyrmwood trays and Chessex dice.
This post isn’t about having the fanciest things, though. This post is about how a Dungeon Master on any budget can add something extra to their next D&D session. There are lots of resources online for making RPGs affordable, but here are some of our ideas!
Music, Ambience, and Sound Effects
For the longest time, I used the work of The Guild of Ambience on YouTube for ambient music during sessions. Their long loops and decent selection were all I needed. Plus, since I was often playing at school for D&D club, I could project the art from the video as well. This added a cool visual component to the immersive environment I was trying to create.
More recently, Beth has been enjoying creating Spotify playlists for the situations we frequently find ourselves in during our one-on-one D&D game. She’s made playlists inspired by specific places and even people. It’s amazing to hear a song come around and immediately think of one of our beloved characters or an especially memorable location.
I am also a big fan of Tabletop Audio, especially as I can easily download the MP3s and work with them. I have embedded these sound files in a PPT and then projected scenes and handouts for my players to some success. They are constantly expanding their catalog and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.
Minis and Tokens
Starting out, Beth and I used bottle caps as player and enemy tokens during combat. You can also use chess or checkers pieces. Tokens work fine, but often it is more fun to have a visual representation of what’s happening in-game.
We also use dice to represent creatures and players. This method has the advantage of being able to turn them to act as counters. If you have six extra d6 laying around, you can easily track which die represents Goblin 1 and which is Goblin 5 by glancing at the pips.
For the artistically gifted, creating your own paper figures may be a joy. I have been blown away by some of the things people have created for running our two-person adventures. For the rest of us, Papercraft has some amazing stuff. There are also cheaper (or free options). When I started, I spent hours laminating and cutting out hundreds of creature tokens from Printable Heroes. I ended up only using a tiny fraction of them. Take my advice, don’t go overboard in your zeal for their pretty paper tokens. It might be smarter to just make them as needed…
One of the best things I did early on was to print 1 inch squares on two pieces of paper and insert them into a sheet protector. You can then draw on the sheet protector with dry-erase markers and get lots of use out of this super simple combat map. Don’t forget to wipe the map off after every game or else you’ll get a stain and have to replace your sheet protector!
Incidentally, all of the maps that we make for our Patrons are ready to be played on in this fashion! Check them out on our Patreon.
After a little while, I got a sheet of graphing chart paper with 1 inch squares and laminated it. This has lasted us for a very long time. Recently we picked up one of Chessex’s excellent Mondo Mats. It’s got hexes and squares and looks all vintage and it’s basically amazing.
For world maps, you can draw lots of material and inspiration from looking at Pinterest. One of our friends even prints highly detailed maps for his Edge of Empire games from Pinterest! Early on, I just drew our opening region in my line composition book, but then I found Inkarnate and we haven’t looked back since. Inkarnate features a free version, but we love the host of tools and resources that the Pro version gets you.
Props and Handouts
Players love when you bring props to the table. For my first time running Lost Mines of Phandelver, I gave my players letters from a major NPC to bring them into the story and ground them in the world. I also hand wrote and gave out one of the letters from Count Strahd early on in The Curse of Strahd. Letters and written artifacts are great to give to players because it prevents you from just reading something out loud. They get to put their hands on the item and decipher all the meaning out of it without constantly asking you to repeat yourself.
We’ve also used Google docs to exchange letters between characters! This let us engage with our world between sessions and helped develop those individual characters and their voices. If you have Secondary PCs splitting off from your main party, for example, perhaps they leave letters along the way!
For puzzles or riddles, especially ones relying on a visual element, consider giving your players something they can manipulate or mark on directly. Winghorn Press does a great job of this in their introductory and SRD-friendly adventure, A Most Potent Brew by including the visual and riddle as a player handout.
We have a potion of healing bottle at our table (in photo above), so when a character needs to take one, they can just shake the bottle and the d4s do their thing. This prevents having to scrounge up the needed d4s and is just plain old fun.
Getting into D&D has been amazing in its encouragement of creativity. The Dungeons and Dragons community includes so many insanely talented, crafty, creative individuals. They are a constant font of inspiration.
D&D is a special kind of hobby that can excite and energize so many creative outlets. Since rolling my first character, I have started to learn to draw, sculpt, and paint. I have had the chance to write games, stories, riddles, poems, journal entries and so much more. Before playing, I would write (very) occasionally, but would never craft or create. In these last few years, creating has become something very important to me.
How has tabletop gaming impacted your creative side? What are your favorite ways to dazzle players during a D&D session? What’s the coolest thing you’ve made? Let us know!
If you like what you’re reading, please consider supporting the blog by purchasing our adventures and supplements in our shop or on DMsGuild or sponsoring us on Patreon. We’d also love for you to follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We appreciate you so much! Thank you for reading. – Beth and Jonathan