So probably the first thing to get out of the way is using props does not make you a LARPer. Maybe you are a person who enjoys LARP, maybe you think it’s the stupidest thing you have ever seen and an affront to RPGs in the pen, paper , and Cheetos dust glory.
Lately I have been speaking with people on other blogs and normal, regular geek folk as well on the subject of props. I guess I never really put too much thought into props. Considering my first experiences with RPGs, communal storytelling, or whatever you would like to call it did not involve maps, miniatures, dice, written rules, or freaking furniture for that manner. The loose ‘rules’ and total reliance on the story is probably why I still enjoy PBP writing RPGs to this day.
Naturally with said background my general passion for props is non existent. But there are cool things, useful things, to be done with props. So after all this reading and conversing I decide to make an expedition through the concrete jungle in search of sweet prop treasure. Here are some good places to go digging for useful props.
***Note: It’s also back to school time. Go out and drop $20 bucks on cheap school supplies and get all your gaming gear for the year. Notebooks, legal pads, pens, pencils, dry/wet erase markers, organization crap, all this stuff is on sale right now.
Prop Hot Spots
– Dollar/Junk/Thrift Store
– Flea Market
– Craft/Hobby Store
– Garage/Yard Sale
– Online/Etsy/Oriental Traders
FLGS: You know this place, if you don’t you probably should. Support your Friendly Local Game Store. Chances are good they sell wargaming terrain, miniatures, mats, maps, adventures, card games, all sorts of super useful stuff. Pick yourself up some 28mm scale terrain, miniatures, my favorite Paizo Flip-Mat, and an anachronistic small game or two. Consider using fun ‘tavern’ games like Three Dragon Ante, Poker, Liars Dice, and other things as an in-game diversion or as a pre-game ritual to get players ready while you wait on the final person to arrive. Ambitious DM/GMs can have the players play in-character for in-game currency. It’s a great way to jumpstart the role playing for your session.
Dollar/Junk/Thrift Store: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Resale shops are a great way to pick up all sorts of great props like cheap jewelry, useful toys, and old books. If you can’t find anything useful you can probably find raw materials to make something useful. Old bed sheets stained with weak coffee or tea bags can be turned into parchment, cloth maps etc.
***Personal Find: While perusing a local dollar store I found mats of fake grass. I spent $2 on two mats and cut them up into 1” and 2” squares and now I have a bunch of perfectly sized flora to be used as bushes or trees on the Flip-mat. A choice find and the 2 mats made enough I can hand out all the extras to my group for their own props. I also found a package of glass ‘diamonds’ in different sizes. Get tactile with those rewards. If your player loses their ‘gem’ guess the party dropped that 175 gp gemstone along the road somewhere. Ah, party drama, instigate it you nefarious overlord!
Flea Markets: Flea markets are a great way to find a lot of great things. You can find people getting rid of their whole RPG collection for cheap if you’re lucky. There are also plenty of handmade crafts that you can find a use for in your games. Unfortunately there’s no way to know what’s offered without physically going and perusing the wares. Spend some time, you might accidentally have fun.
Craft/Hobby Store: I love these places. They’re not just hangouts for lonely cat ladies and grandmas needing knitting supplies for your next Christmas sweater. Honestly I wish someone had told me when I was younger that a lot of attractive young women could be found in these places. Hell of a lot easier to approach and chat a girl up in the rubber stamp aisle than a bar or club. Anyways, with the recent resurgence of handicrafts you can find awesome organization gear and props. Take a stroll through the store, down each and every aisle, seriously. Everything from themed paper to glass bottles with corks.
***Personal Find: I picked up some more bags of gemstones in red and blue. All together I have enough gemstones to hand out to everyone else in my group for use when they’re running. Also found some cheap jewelry, trinkets like skeleton keys, and they have some good stamps to use for documents (I have a lion with a crown and a rampant horse). I also picked up a small wooden treasure chest (for the gems and trinkets), and a birdhouse. A birdhouse? A birdhouse. If by birdhouse you mean a perfect 5” square, stone and mortar beveled tower replete with a tiered second story and crenelations. I may go back and pick up a second one, under five bucks apiece is hard to beat. Definitely check out the ready to paint birdhouses for inexpensive, terrain options.
Garage/Yard Sale: Falls into the same category as flea markets. It’s a crap shoot and you will have to wade through a lot of coal to uncover a diamond. The best advice I can give is take a friend, get some fresh air and sun while you laugh at people’s old windbreakers and ab-blasters. Maybe you’ll get lucky but you’ll definitely get a laugh or two, but it’s horribly boring affair all alone.
Online/Etsy/Oriental Trading: You can find everything online given enough time and most of it can be shipped to your doorstep. For consumer goods like Paizo products, Dwarven Forge, Games Workshop, Reaper Miniatures, etc. check Amazon or their respective web sites. Etsy is like an online flea market with a bunch of people making mostly terrible, unsaleable crap. But some people on there are talented. You can find some good things from props, terrains, and miniatures to crochet beards for your favorite dwarf warrior. Oriental Trading and other direct from China suppliers. Cheap crap in bulk for cheap prices. Good thing you’ll be buying a lot because the quality is non-existent. Use these places to buy things like cheap coinage. You can pick up all the plastic coins you and your extended family of gaming will ever need for a pittance.
***Personal Find: Back when the D&D miniatures line was canceled I amassed my miniatures through a store called TrollandToad.com. They offer/offered lot purchases. Buy X number of miniatures dumped randomly from their bins. Great for those just starting their miniatures collections. You will get a lot of common miniatures and multiples in cheap. Honestly you’re going to need half a dozen orc savages at some point, no need to cry. You can pay more and get a lot with the promise of no multiples. They also sell theme sets (iconic D&D baddies, forest, elves, dwarves & duergar, etc.) and individuals. I have also purchased 3d paper terrain from FatDragonGames.com. With a craft knife, glue, printer, and a case of bobby pins you can make some awesome terrain.
Props are all about how you want to go about it. Have a chunk of change to spend but not a lot of time. There are tons of great already made, painted and ready to play commercial options. If you don’t have so much cash but time and some crafting skills, get to it. This is also a great way to involve people in your life who are either on the fence about tabletop gaming or have no interest (such as my S.O.). Many girls are suckers for crafty projects, doubly so if you’re asking for their help and spending time working on it with them. In some small way you can share your passion and hobby with those around you. If you’re lucky he/she might even make you some bitchin’ game aids like crochet dwarf regalia, or maybe just some Rice Krispy Treats for the next game.
I don’t use a lot of props normally, but in one adventure I ran of The One Ring, my players were defending a Woodmen outpost my friend had built for his LotR wargame. It had wooden palisades, and fields of angled wooden spikes made from skewers.
Even for a game that doesn’t normally use miniatures or grid mats, a few visual aids can add a lot to your players’ enjoyment.
I’ve had some trouble really getting my groups involved and this really gave me a lot did for thought