A little while ago I wrote about a few of the different enhancements that can be made to a role-playing game to make it more immersive. In that piece I mentioned that props and audio enhancements can be used, and I wanted to further expand on that. The below assumes you have some kind of computer or audio player close by (for search reasons, I tend to prefer using a computer). It also works best if you already have the session planned and just want to increase its impact through a small amount of carefully chosen sounds. If you are unsure if you should use these kinds of enhancements, then you should probably just focus on the adventure itself.
Why Bother and Finding a Balance
I have used specially created sounds and props in my games before and they really do help add to the immersive qualities of the game. Instead of trying to describe a sound, they can actually hear it for themselves. Using it too much, however, means that time is pulled away from the game itself. It also takes some time to create this kind of thing and despite how great it can be, enhancements cannot save a bad session. I can't remember the last time I prepared more than 2 such sounds.
When I do use this method, I find using it sparingly really helps improve its impact. The sound that you choose to use is also important as it should be important enough to warrant the extra effort. You, as the Dungeon Master, also still have your natural abilities and if you are good at voices, you can still do them at the table. This kind of preparation should be done for sounds that you cannot reasonably perform at the table. It generally helps to save time a well if you have them play while you do your Dungeon Master describing of events.
Types of Sounds
You can have one or two spoken lines recorded for when they first interact with the character to make the impression you want. I would not record every line for a villain, but having one line prepared to give the impression can work wonders as players can imagine that voice saying what you say. This is even more effective if you can do a voice that is fairly similar to the prepared line but missing the special effects.
Sometimes there will be one sound that you will need to use only in one specific situation for one adventure, but using that sound adds a lot to the game. Maybe your characters are fighting in the middle of a lake and you want to have an ice cracking sound. As rounds go by, you increase the volume. It is important that this sound actually add something big to the game (footsteps may be a bit much) and is meant to be at a memorable spot.
Sometimes the sound you want isn't meant to be used in one specific situation, but a general track meant to set the atmosphere of a location. If you are going into a cave, maybe you want to make sure the players know how the echoing water dripping sounds like. In this case, the sound clip should be long enough to give them the impression of the area. In theory, you should be able to loop this track and use it as atmosphere (be careful about doing this as it can get annoying for a 2 hour session).
Harder to Get Started
It's also important to remember that as time goes on, you will have a collection of sounds you can use. As such, it will get easier since you no longer have to create them and can just use them as needed. Still, I'd suggest not going overboard here and using at most 3 (the focus should be the players).
How to Do it
- Get an audio editor. Audacity is free and fairly good for this kind of thing.
- Record the sound you want or get it from a sound library such as this one.
- Apply the effects you want. If you are recording your own, you probably want to record just the background noise so you can use the noise removal tool.