From Parchment to Potions: d12 DIY Prop Ideas

Physical, tangible, visceral props surprise and delight our players, and never fail to engage them.

Here’s a fantastic example from Wizard of Adventure Carol:

One of the coolest props ever was in a game my daughter is running.

She gave my wizard a spell book that was locked with a code.

Then she gave me (the player) a old tattered stained bit of “parchment” that she’d doctored up with coffee stains, etc.

It had some symbols and texts that gave me clues as to the password to the book.

I was able to unlock the book over a few sessions with some study and rolls and ideas tossed around. Most of it is currently magically blank, as my wizard is low level, but she got a couple of spells.

Here’s the note:

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Here are the clues:

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That’s a great prop, Carol. Thank you for sharing!

I argue that physical props are even more important these days in our virtual age. Imagine a player getting Carol’s parchment puzzle for your character in the mail. Something they’d talk about for years.

The key here, in my opinion, is that the GM put some love and time into the prop. This makes your props unique and special, which will resonate more with players.

Here are some additional crafting project suggestions:

d12 Prop Project Ideas

  1. Wax-Sealed Envelopes & Letters. Check out this wax seal kit on Amazon (aff.). Print or write mission briefings, mysterious letters, or important decrees and seal them closed with wax. The act of breaking the seal will be satisfying to players.
  2. Bespoke Coins. Create fictional currency using cardboard, clay, or paper. Simple wealth and encumbrance tracking. If I were to craft custom currency again, I’d buy some cheap poker chips like these, and spray paint the base color. Then I’d make a cardboard template and spray on currency symbols. A fast way to make lots of money, lol!
  3. Maps. Hand-draw or print maps of towns, dungeons, or mysterious locations. Use the coffee or tea staining method to make them look authentic and intriguing, and seal them with wax.
  4. Potions. Collect small bottles, glasses, and containers. Or buy these. Fill them with colored water, beads, or colored sand to represent different magical potions. Label them with handwritten tags for added effect.
  5. Runestones & Glyphs. Paint or carve symbols onto small stones, wood pieces, or even clay tablets you make to create mysterious runes as puzzle pieces, one-shot magic items, or clues.
  6. Journals and Diaries. Provide clues and lore via a lost diary or ancient scholar’s notebook filled with notes, sketches, and obscure references. Use AI to help with the text. Use a PocketMod template to craft the journal.
  7. Magic Scrolls. Roll up pieces of paper with spells, incantations, or lore written on them. Tie them with a ribbon or string, and optionally age them like the prop letter for added authenticity. We have some cheap decorative edging scissors like these for cutting nice page borders.
  8. Keys. Use old keys painted up as parts of a puzzle or quest. Perhaps they unlock a sealed tome, treasure chest, or secret door.
  9. Costume Pieces. When players find magic items, give out simple hand-crafted corollaries to wear, like cloth bracers, fake jewelry, hats, masks, and cloaks.
  10. Status Symbols. Make brooches, pins, armbands, and custom badges to denote a character’s rank, affiliation, or area access.
  11. Tarot Cards. Create a custom set of mystical cards that feature important NPCs, creatures, locations, items, and events in your campaign. Use them as a storytelling device, to provide hints, or as a divination tool. A cheap approach is with an old deck of cards and some stickers.
  12. Musical Props. I saved the most irritating for last. Use small toy musical instruments as magic items, keys to open secret doors, or character props.
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It’s Your Turn

Craft physical props to elevate your RPG sessions, making them more immersive, memorable, and engaging for your players.

Crafting time can also be GM noodling time, helping you prepare on multiple fronts, pun intended.

Do you use physical props at the game table? If so, what’s worked well for you?

Have more fun at every game!

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