Multi-Media In Roleplaying: 3 Experiments That Went Very Well

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0023

A Brief Word From Johnn

Ever since I bought my Commodore 64 home computer, way back when, I have wanted to enhance my roleplaying sessions with technology. Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to have a group of players who understand, support and often drive that desire for roleplaying multi-media exploration.

This week we have a review of three multi-media experiments- gone-right that I thought you would be interested in hearing about, as well as a few of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Tape Recorder

Tape recording sessions is not recommended: the recorder often dampens play with its presence, changing tapes is annoying and the playback is b-o-r-i-n-g.However, I’ve found it extremely helpful to sit around before or after a game session and record the group’s thoughts. I’ve only done this a few times and we focused on re-telling the campaign’s story to that point so that I could update my campaign journal afterwards. The players remembered a lot of stuff which I’d completely forgot and the journal was much more detailed.

I feel we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg with this tool. Wouldn’t it be useful to discuss character histories and motivations, co-develop world elements and chat about character-driven story ideas as a group and have it all recorded for the GM’s future reference?

Tape Recorder Tips:

  • Use the smallest recorder possible so that it has minimal visual and game table footprints.
  • Use 90 minute tapes. 90 minutes let you store a lot of notes without having to build up a large tape collection. I find that 120 minute tapes tend to stretch, aren’t as hardy and have a tough time with stop/start playback.
  • Don’t put the tape recorder right beside you because your voice will dominate on the recording. Don’t put it in the middle of the table to remind everyone they’re being recorded either. Find a place nearby, like a shelf or window ledge and put some stuff around it to mask its presence.


Recently, we connected a large TV to a computer and saddled it right up to the game table. The game master then displayed maps, scanned graphics and pictures throughout play. It was excellent!The graphics added great flavour and helped us visualize places and monsters much better. And the maps were a stroke of genius. The GM had scanned the maps and used his graphics program (Adobe Photoshop) to paint over the secret and concealed doors.

He also added a layer of blank floor tile on top to cover the map scan, and then he used the eraser tool to reveal the map as we explored. Boy, did we ever save a lot of time mapping. And we planned better and made faster exploration decisions because the maps were there, 31″ tall, for all to see at any time.

Computer-TV Tips:

  • Turn off your screen saver!
  • Do everything you can to get maximum speed from your computer during the session.
  • We had great success with the GM adding notes on to the scanned maps between sessions to help us remember and identify things during play.
  • Instead of using fingers to points things out on the TV during play, create a large graphic pointer (like a bright red circle, rectangle or blob), and drag that around screen so everyone can see.
  • Use a laser pointer, if you’ve got one. It can be tossed to players when they try to explain things such as “Rothgar hides here waiting while Crag and Durgan stand here and here and then they open the door.”

Computer & Headset

During the same multi-session campaign where we used the TV/computer hookup, the GM also wore a headset plugged in to the computer and spoke through that when playing certain NPCs and monsters. It was great. He had set up several sound card filters to create different “voices” and used them to great effect. It also helped that we were wandering through a dungeon adventure filled to the brim with demons–demon voices are very easy to create.

It took a couple of encounters to get used to it, but the computerized voices help me remember that campaign on an entirely different level. We’re definitely going to do that again.

Computer & Headset Tips:

  • Make sure you use a headset that can be easily disengaged during play so that you don’t accidentally use the computer voices at the wrong time–like chatting GM to player.
  • Experiment with the volume. You can only raise your own voice so much without shouting. But with stereo speakers and a sound card amplifier, truly frightening sounds levels can be achieved–great for scaring the players!
  • Create and test your “voices” before play then save your settings to re-use any time.
  • Limit this technique to just a few important monsters and NPCs. The actual range of voices you can digitally achieve is still fairly limited and your NPCs and monsters would start to sound the same if you used the headset all the time.
  • Use a hands-free headset, not a microphone. A microphone stifles GM spontaneity and the players tend to focus on the microphone, not what the GM voice is saying.
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Tried your own multi-media experiments at the game table? Let me know and we’ll help other roleplayers learn from your experiences: [email protected]

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four