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What are your experiences playing an RPG that used physical objects other than dice and character sheets? (e.d Dread which uses a Jenga tower).

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I once made the hacker in a one-shot solve a physical puzzle in order to get to the data while everyone else was fighting off the ever increasing amount of security in "real time"... i think they liked it ^-^" (at least that's what they told me afterwards)
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The greatest use ever in my experience of physical objects was in a LARP I played at GenCon around 2005 or 2006, a steampunk-y think set in a giant bathysphere diving to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. There was a Lovecraftian vibe to it, and at some point one of the characters was supposed to grow tentacles. Turns out, my friend Gary was the one that ended up happening to. The GM's of the game had brought along some long sections of that expandable plastic tubing that you use to connect your dryer to the vent, which they had converted into a kind of tentacle harness. At one point in the game, hidden from everyone else, they had my friend Gary slip his arms into this contraption. I"m standing over to the side talking to some other people, deeply in character, when I hear Gary yelling "Die surface fools! Tremble before my might! Fear me!" that sort of thing, and I turn around and am struck by the sight of my friend waving his arms around with these long tentacle things flopping all over doing his best not to laugh and be serious about having been turned into some kind of deep sea horror. It was simultaneously ridiculous and fantastic. It was the first LARP I had ever been part of, but I was hooked. It was so brilliantly executed by the GM's coming completely by surprise to nearly everyone in the room.
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I have played dread twice. The first time it was fantastic - the players really got into the spirit of the game and we were all nervous about collapsing the tower. The build-up of tension as the slices get restacked and the tower gets more precarious is great for a horror game!

The second time I played it there wasn't as much buy-in from the players - they were circumspect the whole time and didn't take the jenga part seriously. A couple of times a player purposely pulled a piece that would make it collapse, just to see what the GM would do. I felt this was obvious during the game, but one of the other players I talked to wasn't convinced. After the session the player who collapsed it on purpose admitted to doing it to mess with the timing he thought the GM had planned. I felt bad for the GM, that player was a jerk.

Point being: It can work well if everyone is into it, but can be a disaster if a player wants to troll the table.

Other games... I'm trying to think of others that use different types of physical mechanics. The only thing I can think of is a physical puzzle in the middle of the otherwise typical D&D style game.
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Here is another: I never had a chance to play it, but Fastlane was designed to be played around a roulette wheel, using the wheel as the randomizer. I remember circa 2006 or so at one of the first Games on Demand the designer of the game, Alexander Cherry, was running the game and he had an actual (barely) portable roulette wheel he was using. I remember thinking to myself that was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. I have no idea how it actually worked in practice, but it really made me think about how using specific props (in this case, a roulette wheel in a game about gamblers and con-men) could contribute to the atmosphere of the game.
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I always was intrigued by Everway's use of 'Vision Cards' during character creation. I never got around to use those cards, but there is no reason it could not be ported to another game.
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Similar to Sam, I've played Dread, but the GM was brand new and I'm not sure we had the buy-in necessary to make it memorable, despite everyone being gamers and at least amiable acquaintances. The right group chemistry really can make or break things.

I've played a couple that use cards instead of dice, but that hasn't changed things meaningfully imo. It works well.

I almost want to talk about the Escape Rooms I've done. I feel like that almost qualifies. Probably not, but it was a thematic experience that mirrored some of the things I like about RPGs, but without dice.
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fubfubfub wrote:
I always was intrigued by Everway's use of 'Vision Cards' during character creation. I never got around to use those cards, but there is no reason it could not be ported to another game.


I've done a variety of things like this with tarot cards and other visual props. It's fun for me but has never gone over great with players.

I have no experience with RPGs using integrated props that I can think of. It seems more than a little gimmicky, but I can see the appeal.
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Geoffrey Burrell
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My gaming group uses miniatures and physically resolve combat with them.
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Lots.

I've played Dread, which I find to be fun in the right group with the right scenario. The one time I played it was set on a boat, with a GM who knows his boats and a good scenario.

I've done LARPing with props, which can be great fun. The game I committed to wearing a chainmail shirt for a whole weekend was... challenging. My shoulders hurt by the time that was over. (And it was just the chainmail shirt!)

But the big one is at our yearly gamer retreat, which we call Geekend. Often, one or two of the scheduled games revolves around some elaborately constructed props. One year, we had a game with a linguistic element and wooden blocks that had symbols on them. I figured out it was a single-replacement cypher and proceeded to attempt to crack it. That was fun. One year, we did a ship set in the Aliens universe, with a rogue, onboard android and a few props, including a scrolling paper that alerted players to events.

One of the guys often uses his practical experience to 3D print some objects, or create little electronic gadgets to perform in-game tasks. These are interesting and neat, like the one that automatically generated new characters for a game that included a hive-mind type system for half of the characters.

We've done a lot of crazy stuff there. Geekend is often our chance to get experimental and deal with stuff outside our comfort zone.
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GeoffreyB wrote:
My gaming group uses miniatures and physically resolve combat with them.


Like, in the Little Wars sense?
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robbbbbb wrote:
I've played Dread, which I find to be fun in the right group with the right scenario. The one time I played it was set on a boat, with a GM who knows his boats and a good scenario.


Wait, the scenario was on a boat, or the RL game? I'm imagining the heightened tension of playing Dread on a boat, from uncontrollable gusts of wind and such!
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robbbbbb wrote:
GeoffreyB wrote:
My gaming group uses miniatures and physically resolve combat with them.


Like, in the Little Wars sense?


Nice link

I suppose they hurl the minis at each other. Last player standing wins the fight.
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mawilson4 wrote:
robbbbbb wrote:
I've played Dread, which I find to be fun in the right group with the right scenario. The one time I played it was set on a boat, with a GM who knows his boats and a good scenario.


Wait, the scenario was on a boat, or the RL game? I'm imagining the heightened tension of playing Dread on a boat, from uncontrollable gusts of wind and such!


Scenario on the boat. At our aforementioned yearly Geekend. It was the opening night game, at which it excelled.
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ctimmins wrote:
ultramafic wrote:
Limited.

We finish each other's... sandwiches.
That's what I was going to say.

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I've used physical props occasionally but only really as window dressing.

Map fragments left behind, mysterious glyphs, fortune card decks, etc...

Generally they were well received.
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A collection of random thoughts:

-I would be really into Dread if I ever run it / play it.
-I have used handouts to look like classified documents and incomplete maps- it was generally well received but not sure if it was worth the effort.
-I have used handouts for secret messages to specific characters - I recommend this!
-I always meant to use ambiance background noices/ music but always forget in my enthusiasm for starting the game session.
-I have played on 3-D sets / terrain. Pretty neat but I would think it is only worthwhile once in a while for conventions and the like and then you need to store the stuff....
-I feel like when a single piece of real world garment is worn by more than one of the players, this confirms players are really into the session (e.g. pointy hat for the wizard, pointy ears on the elf) but never had this as a standard thing. I don't LARP.
-I have used boardgames to represent the overall status of battles (e.g. Lionheart) and then the minis were interspersed according to their attentions on the field. This was well received.

I would also like to try to print out the magic items from treasure to hand out on note cards so as to keep the game moving without transcription some time. Perhaps, once in a while with a black light marker to hide the effects until discovered?
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mawilson4 wrote:
I almost want to talk about the Escape Rooms I've done. I feel like that almost qualifies. Probably not, but it was a thematic experience that mirrored some of the things I like about RPGs, but without dice.
I have not done one of these yet, but I find them fascinating. They are a kind of LARP without the role-playing (in that I think most of them don't specifically have you play a character, you are sort of playing yourself or the fictional set up is handwaved) but in terms of immersive experience beat many LARPs. I think its possible that there will be more convergence between Escape Rooms and LARP over time, sort of like the "True Dungeon" games at big conventions.

robbbbbb wrote:
One of the guys often uses his practical experience to 3D print some objects, or create little electronic gadgets to perform in-game tasks. These are interesting and neat, like the one that automatically generated new characters for a game that included a hive-mind type system for half of the characters.
I will be very interested to see how 3D printing affects tabletop roleplaying as it becomes increasingly cheaper and easier to implement. Even now I think there is already a cottage industry in "bespoke" miniatures and props, I think that will only become more common in the future.
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Other than dice and character sheets (and, I presume, books and writing materials):

Minis. Kind of meh about them. They look fantastic when painted well, but I think their actual impact on the game is neutral.

Mini-like items. Standees or pogs. I like these because they're a lot cheaper. Find art, print, and you can have minis that look like whatever you want.

Terrain. See minis.

Maps. I have the Tact-Tiles Deluxe Set but never really use them. It's great if you're playing a dungeon crawl with minis or pogs, but these days I'm more likely to sketch a map on paper.

Jenga tower. I've played Dread but am mostly over it. It is okay.

Cards. Many times, mostly various custom card decks like the Mouse Guard cards. Love them. They're a great way to present information concisely, and the physical symbolism is highly useful. I've played some games which use a standard deck as a randomizer; I'm not as much into that.

Various counters. Glass beads, poker chips, etc. Strongly approve.

iPad or other device. Useful for passing around PDF copies of rules.

Sheets of paper, other than character sheets, for tracking things. E.g. Ark sheet in Mutant Year Zero, fiefs in Pendragon, group inventory in Ryuutama, crew sheet in BITD. Strongly approve. I like games with lots of moving parts; thoughtful layout/design makes this fun to track instead of a chore.

GM screen. Depends on the game. I prefer not to use one, but for exploration-type games they are useful to prevent players from accidentally spoiling their fun with a wayward glance.

Dice tower. Usually table real estate is too precious to waste, but they are fun.

Dice rolling tray. More useful. I have a round wooden one, felt-lined, that is about 8" across.

Various props. Fun. I used these a lot for Call of Cthulhu -- I have a CD of form-fillable PDFs suitable for props. Telegrams, newspapers, etc. I don't bother with it outside of CoC -- too much of a lazy perfectionist to bother with making scrolls, wax seals, or whatnot for fantasy games.

I think that's all the physical things I've used. Overall I like them -- the physical stuff helps me feel more engaged at the table.
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The question seems to be referring to actual mechanical alternatives, rather than minis and props, so the first thing that sprang to mind was The Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game from the early 2000s, which had you allocating "stones" to various abilities from a pool. I guess this was meant to make the game more kid-friendly (eliminating dice and reducing math). Our group at the time found it a bad match of mechanic/subject matter, especially coming from years of dice-based games, but I wonder if we'd like it better now.

On the other hand, the Dread and Jenga"wood block stacking game" pairing is a pretty inspired match of subject matter and mechanics. I look forward to actually trying it out one of these days.
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I've posted before, repeatedly, about playing Dread, though oddly neither Google nor I can find those posts at the moment.

The short version: I hated hated hated hated hated this resolution mechanic and as a result hated hated hated hated hated the game.

That's not a general reaction to using objects in a game, though; I enjoy using tokens and cards and poker chips and props props and suchlike in RPGs (though usually more so if they are options rather than requirements).

It's just that I found "test the player's dexterity rather than the character's, with death as the only failure outcome" to be a crappy mechanic which pushed me to disengage completely with the in-game story. (It was that or immediate PC suicide. In retrospect, perhaps that would have been a better choice; it certainly would have been over sooner.)
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Ah - I was reading this question as "conflict resolution" item other than dice and character sheet. That's why I talked about Dread and didn't mention anything else.

I have used tons and tons of props over the years...

Journal entries from a local ranger for my fantasy game - and I handed the players an actual journal when their PCs found it.

Faux newspapers as props in more modern games.

Maps & minis, of course.

I've used lighting changes to good effect while running games before. It is amazing how much more creepy the Underdark seems when the lights dim down a tiny bit, and then a tiny bit more when the party goes deeper, and then more...

I do find music distracting though - I know that it can be used to good effect as background noise, but in 99% of the games I have played in where the GM used music it was WAY too loud for me and I had a hard time hearing anything else at the table.
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Someone on rpggeek is using Scrabble letters for a fantasy rpg about baking....I don't know how that would be an rpg but as a game idea it is interesting.
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