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5 Things to improve your in-Person D&D games

For me, nothing beats an in-person Dungeons and Dragons game. There's something about having everyone together in the same place that just heightens the experience. No worrying about connection issues, or audio delays, or whether the battle map has loaded for everyone etc. Just a group of friends having fun - it's magic. There are also a few things you can use to enhance your in-person D&D session, which may not be possible when playing online. Here are 5 of my favourites.

*N.B. The Amazon links on this page (marked with an *) are affiliate links. This doesn't cost you any extra, but I make a small commission from any sales - which helps support the site :)

1. Music

In my opinion, music is the easiest way to heighten your D&D gameplay. It takes no more effort than searching for a generic fantasy playlist on youtube or spotify or whatever, and putting it on. Boom - things immediately feel more epic!

I'll try to listen to these (at least in part) before the session to see if they fit the mood - and usually have a different one for the chilled exploration parts of the session, and a more dramatic one for combat. You could take this further though - perhaps also searching for tavern noises, or mining sounds or whatever fits the session you're running.

When I ran the final session for Lost Mine of Phandelver(*) (very very minor spoilers ahead) I had a generic playlist going, that I overlayed with periodic wave sounds for wave echo cave, and then again with forge sounds when I made the Forge of Spells come to life. Any music makes the whole adventure come to life - but by layering these different elements, it really ratcheted up the tension, which I was really pleased with.

2. Props

Man, I love props! Probably because I never really grew up. Making tea-stained treasure maps isn't just for kids, you know! Given that I reckon my players are just as geeky as me, I assume they enjoy them too, and try to give out physical props during my in-person games if at all possible. In general, I find they improve the mood and help people feel more connected to the story. Plus, you know, it's fun just to be handed cool stuff.

This doesn't have to be hugely expensive - just have a hunt round your house/ in local charity shops or thrift stores, and see what might make a good prop to hand over to your players on game night. Last night I had a session where I handed over two whisky stones which served as communication stones. I also had a diary entry for someone to read out - so obviously the old letter was tea-stained and torn.

Old keys, old books, weird figurines. Whatever you can find, think about what you can hand out to your players. I have some cheap chinese I-Ching coins(*) that I use as gold pieces, or glass beads(*) that serve as jewels. I also find making things out of modelling clay(*) can be really fun. Whatever it is - give it a try and see how your players react. I'm sure it will be positively!

3. Initiative Tracker

A common problem in combat is that some players just seem to take an age to decide what to do on their turn. They look through all their different spell options and endlessly discuss every possible act they might take. Before you know it, 10 minutes have elapsed and everyone else around the table is checking their phones. Not great for player engagement, to be honest.

While an initiative tracker doesn't completely solve this issue, it does help to mitigate it. If players know a few turns in advance that their turn is coming, they can start to plan out their actions, so they are ready to go by the time their turn rolls around.

There are fancy initiative trackers(*) that you can buy which do this job and look good. Because I'm cheap, for my setup I use a small magnetic whiteboard(*) and a bunch of magnetic labels(*) like this, which does the same job (though, admittedly, doesn't look quite so epic).

4. Tarot deck

A Tarot Deck can be a really useful, versatile addition to your D&D setup. If you don't want to buy separate decks for the Deck of Many Things(*), the Deck of Illusions(*) or the Tarokka Deck(*), you can use the cards within a Tarot Deck to represent the cards from each of them.

Tarot cards still look cool, they have that air of mystique to them, and they still build that sense of tension when a player has to physically pick a card to decide their fate. There are a load of cool Tarot designs - this is like the set that I own(*).

5. Sand timers

Again, if you enjoy a bit of theatricality, then a few sand timers are a great option. If you don't want your players to spend an eternity trying to figure out whatever puzzle you've put before them, then placing a sand timer down on the table implicitly gives them a bit of a hurry up.

They also add a bit of uncertainty to proceedings. Usually, when I place one down I don't tell my players what will happen when the sand runs out - and that mystery heightens the experience and tends to make my players panic a little bit. Exactly what you want when you're a DM!

Again, there are loads of options for these - some a bit fancier(*) than others. I just have a simple set(*) with a few different time lengths.

I hope these tips help you really get the most out of your next in-person session!


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