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  • Selling a sense of place

    How do you sell a sense of place in a game?

    If you are a ST and running a game set in... frankly whatever city or location you are using, how do you sell a sense of place? How do you convey the sense the PCs are in New York, or Chicago, or rural Appalachia and so on? How do you make, as someone nominally running the game, the location real and specific?

  • #2
    Will tend to treat the location as an NPC, so give it a couple of clear characteristics. (Even do this for sub-locations within the main one). Often something like the shots you get on TV series where they show a quick shot of the area.

    So description of common sound, lighting or items. "As normal the sirens of police cars can be heard in the distance", "The mornings has the usual hazy half light as the sun tries to get through the city smog", "The wind cuts through you as you step out, the same wind that blows down the street every day", "The flow of yellow taxis goes past, their horns sounding from time to time".

    Will then tend to use these often in the framing of the situation. Also will make it clear when they are not there.

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    • #3
      Engage all the senses in your descriptions.

      I tend to use smell allot to give a place character. This works particularly well in my Werewolf game, but can enhance just about any setting. The smell of stale, spilled alcohol on Bourbon Street, the smell of urine on Canal Street, and the smell of the plants in the Garden District all paint different characteristics for areas withing New Orleans (revelry, homelessness, and opulence, respectively). Add in both the smells and tastes to your descriptions of an areas signature cuisine and you have ready hooks to draw in your players.

      The music of an area is also a great immersion tool. By your example, the folk music of Appalachia stands in stark contrast to the club music of much of New York, and to the pounding beat of Disturbed's hometown shows in Chicago.

      The description of a soft sand beach versus that of a rocky beach; the difference between a hot Arizona breeze, an oppressively muggy southern storm, or the frigid winds off Lake Eerie; and the dichotomy between the smooth steal and glass of new construction and the peeling paint and splintered wood of the neglected neighborhood next door all give players a tactile feel for a place.

      Using maps and pictures can really help. Street names and city districts pull players in, especially if they are able to follow along on a map.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by ThomasM View Post
        Engage all the senses in your descriptions.

        I tend to use smell allot to give a place character. This works particularly well in my Werewolf game, but can enhance just about any setting. The smell of stale, spilled alcohol on Bourbon Street, the smell of urine on Canal Street, and the smell of the plants in the Garden District all paint different characteristics for areas withing New Orleans (revelry, homelessness, and opulence, respectively). Add in both the smells and tastes to your descriptions of an areas signature cuisine and you have ready hooks to draw in your players.

        The music of an area is also a great immersion tool. By your example, the folk music of Appalachia stands in stark contrast to the club music of much of New York, and to the pounding beat of Disturbed's hometown shows in Chicago.

        The description of a soft sand beach versus that of a rocky beach; the difference between a hot Arizona breeze, an oppressively muggy southern storm, or the frigid winds off Lake Eerie; and the dichotomy between the smooth steal and glass of new construction and the peeling paint and splintered wood of the neglected neighborhood next door all give players a tactile feel for a place.

        Using maps and pictures can really help. Street names and city districts pull players in, especially if they are able to follow along on a map.
        I even felt the atmosphere right after your description

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        • #5
          Originally posted by BernhigG View Post
          I even felt the atmosphere right after your description
          Thank you very much! My sense of self-worth needed that boost this week.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by ThomasM View Post

            Thank you very much! My sense of self-worth needed that boost this week.
            you are welcome

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            • #7
              Considering my V20 Chronicle is set in Portland, OR........ hipsters, hipsters everywhere.

              Okay cheap jokes aside --- if I had to epitomize Portland it's, "the big city that doesn't feel like a big city." Ostentatious wealth and flashiness are not the generally done thing, even among Portland's Damned. Relaxed, cozy, eclectic, even louche is the rule. When I design a location, whether it's a powerful elder's haven or a hidden bar where the Masquerade doesn't apply, I keep the laid-back loungy atmosphere in mind. Furniture is often mismatched (even a little tacky); locations either aren't that big or are literally reclaimed spaces such as old warehouses and gymnasiums; the rock show is less likely to be at a grand venue and more like a basement bar with 120 people squeezed into a 50-person space. Prepossessingly quirky touches are everywhere, from the fluorescent art installation/shrine to Elvis outside a rack to the pink flamingo statues the Toreador Primogen likes to leave around the city. In short, I aim either for the quaint and relaxed or touches of high weirdness such as you might see in one of Portlander Chuck Palahniuk's novels.

              Also whenever possible, Pink Martini.

              So, to generalize (and answer OP's question more directly)---think of the mythology of your setting, as it were. What's the reputation, perhaps even what are the cliches? For Portland it's offbeat and quirky; L.A. is vast as the desert and glittery as a monument to excess; NYC is storied, gothic; Cleveland is grungy, yet musical; etc. Of course in real life no place as vast as a city can be summed up in this way. But it can be highly useful in giving your chronicle a unique vibe and even shaking out some higher themes of the story you want to tell.
              Last edited by Ventrue Busboy; 05-16-2021, 05:44 AM.

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