Prop it UP!
Call of Cthulhu is an amazing table top game that requires strong roleplay and creativity to navigate the madness that is this ttrpg. Props are something that can bring a table from fun to extraordinary. Almost every pre-made scenario booklet comes with pre-made paper props that can be copied and handed out to players. I say as a Keeper try to strive beyond using just the ones given to you. If you are creating your own homebrew scenarios, props are a must have to your masterpiece. There are so many ways to use props from setting a physical scene for your players to making a puzzle that the players need to solve together at the table. If your players agree (because it is a strain on the eyes) you can play in a dark room using only candles and oil lanterns to make a 1920's speakeasy. Here are some examples of why I believe props are so important and how they were used in my game.
One of the many reasons I have session zeros with my players before starting a new game is to focus on building a character. If players are uncertain of what they want to do, I am there as their Keeper to give helpful suggestions based on the scenario and the assist sorting through all the options and dice rolls. If players are familiar with the system I still have them come over so we can both get excited about their newest investigator and I can get acquainted with our newest PC. After a character is built and a personality picked, my investigators are then given a task before session one: to find a prop that represents their character or something their character would use and then bring it to the table when we play. This may seem like a strange task for some but it has made every game much more memorable and helps keep players engaged and in character. Players are more invested in their investigators when it becomes more than just a piece of paper.
What does this look like?
Dr. Bradbury came into our game with a bowler hat and suit. Though I do not require my players to dress up, it was amazing to see this player come to life from head to toe. His props that he brought was a pocket watch (chain seen in the picture) and a pipe. During situations that required thinking, the pipe came out. After stressful situations, such as when one of our investigators almost shot another player due to a bout of madness in the game, then the pipe and the hidden flask in his coat pocket came out. The pocket watch was a part of his back story and was the perfect fidget for Dr. Bradberry to play with in game and demonstrated at the table.
Nora Elsner was our Investigative Journalist at our table. The player actually found a 1920's camera in a Goodwill store. Though it did not physically work, Nora would take it out and click the button going over everything that Nora wanted evidence or pictures of. It was satisfying sitting at the table watching her aim her camera at the "scene" and describe what was being captured. This prop was also used during down time to take a photograph of the investigators in the group.
The Gang's All Here
Have a shady smuggler or a mafia member in your investigator group? There is nothing like having a mini brief case as your prop. Not only does it work to store your character sheet in dice in for travel, but it can also be used as a physical "inventory" when your investigator is digging to see what goods you got or what supplies you are carrying.
The Game and Ambiance
Candles, Oil lanterns (real and LED) and 1920's grainy gramophone music from YouTube are just more ways that I set the scene for my players. I want them to feel that they are leaving their daily lives behind and becoming their characters in this unique table top world.
There is great satisfaction that comes with handing players props rather than using descriptions or some of the simpler paper props that come with some of the scenarios.
How the Fox has Used Things:
I love raiding the Goodwill Thrift shops, for you never know what treasures you will find. I have found oil lamps and really cool Cthulhu Ritual candles for my investigators to use.
When a situation calls for newspaper articles, I try to get or create newspaper articles that they need to physically scan or read.
When I ran The Edge of Darkness scenario, I found a metal box in which I put incense powder, chalk, and some hand written notes about the ritual that needed to be performed. I then gave my players the option to actually perform the ritual at the table or use their rolls. They ended up doing better with their physical performance than some of the rolls.
Blue tooth speakers are also an amazing thing to use. I had a few Bluetooth speakers hidden around the basement that I could hook up my phone to behind my keep screen. At certain tense points I would play monster sounds so my players could feel the same tension as the characters they are playing. It also got a good spook out of a player or two as well.