RPG Theater

What is Role-Playing Game Theater?

A blue night look for Ghost Light, a Chaosium Call of Cthulhu scenario by Gary Sumpter, presented at Open Gaming Convention 2011.

RPG Theater is the practice of creating an immersive environment that fosters fun high quality role-play using theatrical techniques. Mood is enhanced through the use of sound, lighting, solid handouts, and limited props. This works just like conventional theater, except that the audience and the performers are one and the same!

Imagine for a moment that the space containing the table and the players sitting around it is like the stage in a traditional play. Lighting and sound changes signal and augment changes in the scenes. A dark night scene might be played in a dim blue light with the sound of crickets in the background. When the crickets stop, the participants are sure to notice and worry. Bright light helps to suggest a hot sunny day and dim diffuse light a dark dreary day. Sound tracks and environmental sound effects also help create a rich environment and subtle mental landscape that are very effective in evoking the feel of the scene.

The Colony at Total Con 2011 Table

The Keeper’s view of the table for The Colony, a David Conyers scenario for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, presented at Total Confusion 2011.

To see in the mind’s eye how this might work, simply imagine that the role-playing scenes are being played in an environment like that of a minimalist theatrical stage production. As the scenes change so does the lighting and sound. This sends both overt and subconscious signals to the participants and helps create an environmental illusion that reinforces the mood and feel of the scene.

Good effect can be achieved with a dark room, a simple household dimmer, table lamps, a few flashlights, and a basic sound system. Some well-chosen background music or soundscape can really help set the scene. It is all about the atmosphere, mood, and having fun!

Flinal Flight Act 2 Carnage 2009

The table during a break in a session of Final Flight, a Pagan Publishing scenario by John Crowe III for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, presented at Open Gaming Convention 2009.

Many games have been run using theatrical techniques. Atmosphere and mood helps to bring to life any setting. Small touches like a few relevant props on the table and some well-prepared handouts add to the feel of play. One or two special touches are often reserved for a key scene or encounter.

Andre’s Current Methods

Andre employs a 2-scene preset lighting control board, dimmers, and L.E.D. lighting units, along with some more traditional low wattage Par Cans and clip lights. He also uses a small portable P.A and various audio players to play sound tracks and effects. A black backdrop is employed to help keep background objects from providing a distraction. Props, handouts, and a few bits of theatrical business are used to round out the feel of the game.

The control equipment at Total Con 2011. A 2 scene preset lighting contol board, switch box, small PA, and CD players.


The future of role-playing is bright and diversity is increasing. Many gamers are placing greater emphasis on a variety of methods for enhancing the role-playing experience. Game Soapbox Productions hopes to help improve the play experience of many such gamers.


A studio dedicated to role-playing theater is the ideal arrangement. A dedicated black box style space and technical budget allows for some truly memorable role-playing experiences. Such a space can provide for many more options in terms of lighting, projection, and many other effects.

The lights, PA, props, and other gear nearly packed up and ready to go at Open Gaming Convention 2011.