“The pungent smell of mildew emanates from the wet dungeon walls…”

noseThis posts’ title is a quote from the Dead Alewives’ famous “Dungeons & Dragons” sketch. When I recently listened to the sketch again this line made me think. Usually when I run a game as GM I make sure I describe everything as meticulously as possible, especially when I want to set a special mood by this particular scene. But the Dead Alewives’ sketch reminded me that I often forget to describe what the player characters can smell (or even taste).

But smell can be a powerful tool in a GM’s arsenal (By the way, I advise against using smells as some kind of prop in gaming. Putting a piece of rotting flesh under the table will not set the mood but will probably make your players sick). But you should try to remember mentioning smells and sometimes even tastes in your descriptions. Smells are tied to emotions and memories like no other sense.

And as a GM you can use this fact to your advantage. In a scene where the players are operating in a modern day hospital mention the antiseptic smell. Or use the aforementioned smell of mildew (and other unpleasant odors) in underground dungeons. A bazaar will seem much more interesting if you describe all the exotic spices and how they smell. And if you remind your players that their characters have an olfactory sense, they will probably make more use of it, too. And this will add a lot to the atmosphere of your game in the long run.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

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