Creating atmosphere – setting the mood and building tension

Good evening and welcome to a bit of a casual weekend write-up around setting the mood and building tension.

Now a disclaimer, my memory isn’t super great so I may have covered some of this before and I will definitely touch on it again as I learn more, develop more techniques and explore what it means to facilitate a TTRPG adventure.

This week we have the slow build of the approach of a herd of spooked Glimmer Stags, a kind of elk with fox-like tails. The idea behind this is to play on the sensations that we would feel during the lead up which perhaps could be a slight rumble of sound that could be distant thunder, to the vibrations, a flock of birds hurrying away from the approaching creatures and past the party. Anything that we can see from film or read about in literature for stampedes could help this week. But how do we do that for a RPG?

Sound. Mimicking the sound, animals calls, drumming your fingers on the table or even having sound clips playing could all help set the auditory atmosphere of the scene for the party to help describe whats happening or whats not happening quite yet.

Describing the other sensations like feel, touch, temperature or visual queues can also be help develop the atmosphere. For me trying to describe the vast lack of visual queues or the build-up of these can be challenging as as humans we either see something or we don’t and when we have characters that have darkvision in our groups they normally can see everything. But having a bright light or the sense of movement without defined vision can to start paint the picture.

With any atmospheric building it needs to be described as either a stark contrast that triggers a feeling of foreboding, uneasiness or uncertainty or gradually build from a flicker of recognition to the realisation that something is different or wrong. Some rpg podcasts out there do this very well and generally the horror variety of rpgs really highlight both tempos of atmospheric development.

For me in prefer gradual addition of atmosphere. Starting with normal then adding more, like a sprinkle of salt to emphasise flavour, then another and so forth until its more salt than soup. This enables me to use audio cues as well as play with describing the other senses being influenced as well. Focus on one sense then throw in another to emphasise the build up to the crescendo of the piece.

Background music, only if timed well, during the description or during the planning of it can help us with planning the encounter. We need to feel the build-up to as these weavers of story so we can convince ourselves of whats happening. We are our toughest critics and the first people who we need to get on side for this adventure to be a hit so sell it to yourself first.

Well, thats all I have for tonight to touch a bit more on setting the atmosphere for our rpgs. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for the end of week write-up and, as always, don’t forget to roll with advantage,

The Brazen Wolfe