The Perfect Gaming Environment
RoleplayingTips Weekly Supplemental #4
Here are numerous tips, stories, and comments about Issue #56's request for advice and experiences about gaming
- Turn the TV off!
- Put players who are known to talk off topic more than
the others closer to the DM. In my games this increases
their attention span.
- Minimise distractions by playing in a room without a
phone, TV or radio, or in a room that isn't a thoroughfare
through the house.
- When playing spooky scenarios try using theme music
and/or a little scenery dressing. I have a (plastic) skull
goblet and some old looking candlesticks which worked quite
well. You can also buy fake cobwebs in a spray can.
- Consciously involve PC's whose players are furthest away
from the DM, especially when they are being distracted by
something or are talking off topic.
I've actually spent many years trying to come up with the
perfect gaming environment, and although I have not achieved
said perfection, I have one pretty good so far.
We have an area (within 10 feet of the kitchen, in case
someone needs a Mountain Dew) about 15' long, 9' wide in
which is "The Table". This is a massive oaken table
surrounded by chairs. At the back of the area, against the
wall, is the GM's seat. To his right, is a bookcase full of
reference materials, and gaming manuals. In front of him,
are all his smiling players. (This has the added benefit of,
since the GM can't get out without displacing a section of
those seated at the table, people bring him drinks. :))
Behind, and just over his seated head, is the white-board
which he can diagram maps, battles, and such. The light over
the table is a dimmer-kind which allows mood lighting if
Now, just to get the GM his own mini-fridge....
From: Dark Druid
I have found that it is a good thing for the GM and the
players to sit on the same level... the physical special
relationship seems to mentally bring the players into the
world. However, I have found that classic "table-top gaming"
is often awkward for me for two reasons...
- Unless you have a separate gaming or recreation room,
family members and friends will wander in and out at will,
thus creating a distraction and often times prompting
younger siblings to ask, "What are you playing? Can I
- When people sit on the floor in my family room, they seem
both casual and involved at the same time. Sitting on carpet
really isn't that bad, and when a player is not needed in a
certain scenario, they can simply go and sit on the couch...
comfortable and distant but still close enough for them to
listen to the story.
From: Martin S.
I read about the Perfect Gaming Environment problem and have
experienced something similar. I dare to say that brightly
lightened rooms do disrupt any atmosphere. So I would
recommend candles (If available and usable without dangers),
or a table with a low-hanging or dimmed lamp. As there is
usually less to see than normal, players will automatically
get more into the gaming atmosphere.
From: Rick K.
I have decided to write again to discuss the perfect gaming
environment. I think when people are a little packed in it
is best. For some reason, being a little close, and not
being aware of much beyond the table makes it easier to
focus on the game. For example, the best games I've ever run
were in a seahut in Kosovo. We could only use about half of
it, and had beds, lockers, a tiny table, and a TV packed into
the area. We also had a chair for each person and, at one
time, as many as 7 players. The wall lockers sort of hemmed
us in, further reducing distractions, and there were no non
gamers present, except Hassan, the Nigerian Tiger, but he
was always asleep, anyway.
ALWAYS around a table. That is one of the most basic
premises - always around a table. Intensity is for $%#$^ if
you are not around a table.
To get to a more detailed answer: The table size and shape
are very important and vary widely. The best table is one
that gives the players some room while keeping them fairly
close to the GM. I have always envisioned a half circle
table with the players sitting around the curved side with
the GM sitting on the straight edge - but who has money to
go blow on a big table like that?
So you have to make do. The players need to be close enough
together to keep intensity up but not so close that they
move into OOG territorial disputes; it WILL happen - I just
toss in a knife and let them fight it out. I personally like
my computer at the table with me - both for
making/consulting notes and playing songs at the appropriate
times. [OT: Speaking of songs, any GM who has not
downloaded a LOT of stuff from Napster (etc) is really
missing the boat. Morality/ethics questions aside, it is a
hot resource for building intensity.]
And that is what the table set up (eg get off the
couches/floor/separate chairs scattered around the room) is
all really about - building intensity.
The chairs and room around the table should also be noted -
the chairs should be semi comfortable at least (not a
lazyboy but not a metal folding chair either) and there
should be enough space for the players to get in and out
from the table for all the bathroom breaks, kitchen runs,
From: Garry S.
My perfect gaming environment...
A local hotel has hosted several gaming conventions, the
perfect environment is one of their conference suites. You
have a large table, comfortable swivel chairs, a bathroom
steps away, and a small fridge for pop and snacks.
The comfortable chairs mean a long session is not fatiguing
due to player and GM discomfort. A large table means you
are focused, but not pressed for space, you can spread
things out. The fridge and bathroom mean that you do not
lose time to overlong breaks while people seek food or
While my games are sprawled around the living room due to
space constraints, I long for such a game room and have
plans to build it in my basement. The only things I would
add to that setting would be a white board for sketching
things out, and light controls handy to the GM's seat.
Variable lighting would be a wonderful feature to have. So
much in the way of mood altering can be done simply by
changing the lights in a room.
My main problem with changing the lighting, for example,
candlelight for a dark mood, is that both my players and I
are getting up in age, and we like lots of light for
reading. Setting the room with candles might set a mood,
reading the dice with a flashlight so destroys that mood.
Light fixtures that would allow me to change from normal
white to yellowish lightly, or even flicker bulbs and to
vary the lighting would allow the mood, but allow the mood
to move on. As the party moves into the evil would you can
slowly lower the light, and set the mood. When they move
from the evil wood you bring the lights back up indicating
that the evil has passed.. Multiple lighting is a dream
option. Expensive to set up. But a remote controlled
rheostat can be had for much less money, and might be a good
investment in room used largely for gaming.
From: Serge C.
In all those years of gaming, the best experience that I had
were when the environment were close and empty of anything
that could take us out of the games. I remember a cellar
that one of my friend were renting. It was so low (5'-9")
that we had to move bend in half to move. There were a wall
of old rock and no electricity. We had to play with candle
all the time. It was the best place to get into a game.
I was the game master in a LARP (live action role playing)
of vampire the masquerade. And with a few players, we
decided to make a game at an old house in a remote place. We
got there early in the day and got the house all set up in
the gothic mood we didn't use anything else then candle to
light all the house (and you have to be careful with that).
When a player got there, the whole house was in game. We
were 14 in that house. Where-ever you walk in, there was a
special mood and someone to talk to. It was great. We had 6
hrs of intense gaming that time and it was one of the best
LARP events that I ever went to.
When there's nothing to take you back into reality, you'll
be more involved in the game.
From: Sean H.
First and foremost, thanx for doing this newsletter. I look
forward to getting it each week to get me inspired for our
tuesday night gaming sessions. Especially because it's my
turn to GM for the next few months.
You asked for gaming environment tips. Here's some stuff
that's always worked out well for my group that's been
running for the past eight years.
We always play out in the garage, for starters. It takes us
away from the distraction of room-mates and/or family
members traveling through the gaming session. I also find
that it gets players more into character because they're not
worried about what the *other* people in the house are
thinking of them when they are speaking in character and
Add to that garage a really large table that would not fit
comfortably anywhere else in the house. Our current gaming
table is a massive old thing from a local thrift shop that
we refurbished. It comfortably seats the GM at the head of
it, two players on a side and one at the far end. Not only
does this give the players enough room for their required
gamestuff, but also has plenty of space for the snacks and
drinks that are essential to any good gaming session. Also
a CD player with suitable music played at a non-distracting
level is almost a necessity. Oh and most importantly... no
phones. The house phones are inside and left to the others
in the house. Cellphones are to be turned off at all times
during the session.
From: John Taber
Wanted to add a comment about your perfect gaming
environments. I have to say that right now I have a really
great gaming environment. I just bought a house that has a
small cottage in the back. My wife and I had no idea what
to do with the place...gaming! I know this is not feasible
to a lot of people but the way I set it up might be. I've
added a white board, a pin board, a beat up CD player that I
got from a garage sale, and a nice school type table. I
picked all of this up really cheap. The white board is
great for fast pictures of layouts or riddles and such that
you want everyone to see. The pin board is wonderful for
charts and rule reminders. I play Hero system games so we
have things like speed charts and range modifiers on the pin
board right now. The CD player adds mood music. The school
table is nice because it is not too big. In fact it is just
narrowly larger than the thin side of our megamats. I think
a smaller table forces people closer and to interact. It
really makes a difference. Keep up the good work! John T>
From: Nick M.
I am a DM who travels a lot, from my hometown to where I
study and back, and that's an 8-hour drive. So, I have two
different groups, one "here" and one "there". With my
hometown group, we usually gather at someone's home, and sit
on the floor, on mattresses on the floor etc.
This means that some people do indeed fall asleep during the
With my "there" group, we play at the lounge of a hotel.
Many irrelevant people come and go, and there's usually a tv
playing, yet I've found that for the players, this means
making an effort to lean forward and listen to what I and
their partymates say. In essence, these outside distractions
only distract them from making irrelevant remarks and bad
Hope this makes some sense to you, because it baffles me...
From: Ed W.
Hi Johnn and all,
You asked about perfect gaming environments. Normally our
group meets in an unused room in a friend's house around a
large tabletop with all our gaming needs in easy reach and
the kitchen just through the door but while good, this does
not match the one we used about 4 years ago. At that point
we had a large basement with a long wooden table. The table
was covered in cloths sporting interesting muted patterns.
Incense filled the air and the lighting was supplied by many
candles on the table each in an interesting candleholder,
everything from skulls to fairy statues holding the candles.
A small stereo was near the Referee to allow mood music to
be played at just the right moment and a small laundry room
just to the side allowed for secret conferences. It was the
best. You could really get into the feel of the game with
the altered environment.
From: Casey D.
I'm sure this will come up, but taking the game "outside" is
a nice change of pace if properly planned.
I had a game in which the players had to move through a
cemetery. Now, I didn't take them out to a real cemetery,
but I did move the game outside. It was chilly but not
cold, and we had a fire and some nice "camping" food. I had
a table, and a few candles but also some generator lights so
lighting wasn't an issue.
It had a great "mood" but I must warn that we'd been playing
for many game sessions. Be careful not to do something like
this too soon, else risk "cliche" or "corny" or just plain
weird and loose players!
From: Anne W.
I'm in several different games and I think the
environment really has to fit the group. In a live-action
game we always used to meet in a park - it really encourages
staying in character since you can't plop down in front of
the TV or a computer or video game or something.
Unfortunately due to stupid bureaucracy for real around here
the park management won't let us do this anymore. Since we
stopped, in-character involvement has gone down
In a separate game with much much smaller numbers of
players, we play at a table away from the TV and gaming
systems [one player of mine keeps wandering away and
playing, until I started making his character have to deal
with *big* problems for just walking away from a king or