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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gamer's Grimoire: Using Scent in Your Game

Our Gamer’s Grimoire series explores ways to go deeper into the role playing experience. This series will feature such things as special effects and different techniques to help create immersion into your table top and live action games.

The first thing we wanted to highlight was utilizing the sense of smell in a game setting. For the most part, we often rely on audio and visual cues in gaming experiences. However, scent is another way to add a layer of depth and impact into any game. Sounds and sights are familiar, but scent, when done effectively, can provide an unexpected twist and make for a memorable experience.

For example, we were involved in a game in which an NPC faerie stepped into the room. He didn’t have to say to do anything to get the players attention, because the moment he stepped into the room the scent of roses filled the air. Everyone turned to the source immediately. The smell of roses coming from the NPC evoked an otherworldly and very fae feel. Years later, this simple trick is the thing the most players remember about the scene. It made a lasting impact. Of course, it’s no surprise considering that our olfactory sense is tied to our memories. It’s a good trick to help create memorable characters and scenes.

For personal use, scent is a great way to add definition to player characters and NPCs. It’s just like any other accessory you might add. People give off a variety of different odors from either their natural body chemistry or by wearing their favored perfume or cologne. Giving a character a signature scent can help identify them to other players.

You can also use a room spray to give an area an atmospheric touch, just as you would use background music or dim lighting. It helps set the scene and tone by fully immersing players into the location you are trying to evoke. Since you’ll want to avoid fire hazards, incense may not always be the best option depending on your gaming space and smoke allergies of those involved.

If you are looking to incorporate scent into your game, we highly recommend checking out BPAL. They offer a wide selection of perfume oils, including some very original and offbeat aromas that are ideal for capturing almost any environment or character. You can also check out local perfume stores in your area. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you might even want to try your hand at crafting your own blend. Here’s a great site with info on getting started, if you do.

When using scent, we are creating an intangible and ephemeral change in the air. We are using subtly to draw the players attention to details often otherwise ignored. It can help give off a more visceral sensation. However, it should be noted that you need to use common sense here. Most players are not really going to want to play in a room that reeks of cat urine and moldy garbage even if a scene is supposed to be taking place in an urban alleyway. Likewise, some of your players may be sensitive to certain scents and/or have allergies. Before using this effect, you may want to survey your players and make yourself aware of any sensitivities to perfumes and air sprays.


  1. Opening up a bunch of old books in the room can really give a room an "Old Library" smell quickly. The same with baking bread. Something about the scent of baking bread just gives that pleasant old time feel. Plus, fresh bread for the game.

    Couple "less expensive" ways to help get scent involved.

  2. Good ideas! Although for certain locations it's easier to deal with sprays and oils for the portability.

    But I love the bread idea. There's nothing quite like freshly baked bread.

  3. sounds interesting. to tell the truth i never thought or new about such a thing maybe that's because in our society it's such a common thing that every where you go it smells "good" (i mean shops, cafes etc).

    it would be cool to try playing a game where the scents change due to the situations. like when you're crossing an ocean per boat with your avatar and it starts to smell like sea.


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