Ok, so we’ve established the basics of RPGs. A GM, a group of players. Usually dice, pencils, only one rubber, paper, rulebooks (or e-readers). Depending on whose house it is, some degree of refreshments. However, there are extras, some particular to different GMs, some to different styles of play.
Soundtracks we’ve mentioned before, getting more common. Props can be interesting, such as the blue light bulbs for cyberpunk. I ran a 5 rings campaign, basically fantasy Japan, so put props in to give a feel. I covered the table with a fake silk material, and scattered Eastern stuff – chopsticks, dry rice, a pinch of leaf tea. Props work, I find, provided you make an effort, and put down enough things. They do give a feel to a genre, and can be picked up fairly easily these days (authentic samurai swords are a) over the top and b) a bad idea to leave lying around). Other easy props are the candles and aged paper scrolls we used in Vampire. Talking of scrolls, I used to give my magic-users scrolls bound up with ribbon for their spells, the idea being it showed how long it took to cast the spell (untie, unroll and read).
Figures can be used. It’s fun to play with figures, if someone has a good variety, so you can find one that looks like your character. It adds realism, and helps to check lines of fire, and who can get to hit who. These days it’s easier to just put marks on paper, although I use figures for Aces and Eights, a tremendously detailed western system. Some systems are pretty much designed for figure use, such as Traveller’s ship combat rules. I remember browsing early Citadel catalogues, looking for a specific fighter (sword, shield, heavy armour and tankard).
GMs often have shticks. One thing I do occasionally, I use two bags of marbles, one light, one dark. If you do something out of character, mildly cheat, don’t play a disadvantage, I give you a dark marble. Something good, role-playing a disadvantage even when it screws you over, a light one. You can have any number of marbles, either colour, but not usually for long. A light one you give back to the GM to re-roll a die, a dark one the GM takes back to make you re-roll. So they count quite heavily, and are less contentious than experience points.
One fun memory, think it was Wraith, where as well as your character, you get to play the voice inside the head of the person next to you. Ok, clearly this has really dark issues, and is not in any way to be made light of. Although spending the whole session whispering ‘ you’re rubbish ‘ to Jon was entertaining. To me, at least. The obvious problem with that idea was you spent more time being the other person’s voice, than being your own character. Also, it was really important not to sit on the left of certain people. Me, apparently. But, joking aside, it really put an atmosphere and an edge to the game.
I guess there are as many gimmicks as GMs – I was thinking of putting a Parker style ending to this but manfully resisted.