Building Ambiance

Saturday, 10. July 2010

All places have an associated feeling when one thinks of them, comprised of all 5 of our senses. While modernly we rely primarily on sight and sound for our communications; smell, touch and taste all have an important role in defining our thoughts of a place. For any action taken in that environ this can either be disruptive, neutral or engaging. The term for such is ambiance although perhaps it will be useful to take a look at what Mirriam Websters has to say about it.

Main Entry: am·bi·ence
Variant(s): or am·bi·ance \ˈam-bē-ən(t)s, ˈäm-bē-än(t)s\
Function: noun
Etymology: French ambiance, from ambiant ambient
Date: 1889
: a feeling or mood associated with a particular place, person, or thing : atmosphere

Ideally we want an environment that is either neutral or engaging for gaming purposes. Assuming you’ve read my earlier writing on a good gaming environment the your environment will hopefully be at least neutral. To push it to the point of engaging however, requires a bit more work. The easiest senses to work with in this case are sight, sound and smell, although the others can be involved as well. Engaging requires attempting to simulate the environment the characters are in, even in a small fashion. The brains of the players will respond in kind to the attempt, and make envisioning such a seen that much easier.

In the attempt of lighting, dimming or brightening the lights in the room works well to simulate conditions. In most cases, this is fairly easy to do by adding or removing lamps as need be. Further lighting by the use of either spotlights (track lighting is nice for this) or candles to be appropriate to the scene can go a long away. Spotlights can be additionally focused or aimed and can also have colored lenses applied for an appropriate feeling. The advantage of using candles or oil lamps is the light is rarely continuous and adds a lot with its flicker.

Scent would be another easy variable, and one that dosen’t require much work either. One of the important things to remember with using any sort of scent is that a little goes a long way. The thin waft of a candle is enough to stimulate the senses, although it might not be exactly whats required. Incense goes well an in addition to being cheap and long lasting, can be bought custom tailored to what is needed. A small drop of scented oil can work very well, and can be relatively nondescript.

As for stimulating with sound, typically you’ll want something quietly running in the background just to cover up and outside sound. The trick is to have it loud enough, without interrupting conversations between players or explanations from the GM. A computer or I-pod with some speakers works well for this. I am slowly assembling pieces of music here as listed under thematic music, but a simple search over the Internet will reveal a lot of music that’s usable.

I won’t go into senses of touch or taste here, but I’ll caution that it would be easy to overdo it and wierd some people out. Know your group and be careful! I tend to leave taste to taste food~

With a little extra preparation, it’s you can prepare a good ambient setting for role playing that will make acting that much easier. Just use a little creativity stimulating the senses, and don’t overdo it. A little goes a long way here.

NOTE: Be careful with any sources of open flames and make sure they are securely affixed and located in a spot that isn’t going to burn. Otherwise, one might have a visit from the fire department which is certainly a hamper on stress free living.

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