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Evil DM TricksTM

Theater and Props

Aging documents


I soaked a regular piece of paper in tea, then I put in a frying pan in the oven. The tea dries irregularly on paper and the heat gives it a ripple effect. I also sprinkle some corn oil then crumple it up. It gives it a wax and preserved feel.


Wiltrix's method is what I use. Haven't tried the corn oil, though. Brew the tea nice and strong. Burning the edges carefully with matches is good too. Do NOT experiment with Soy Sauce. It gave a great look, and neat leathery feel, but a year and a half later, it STILL smells like soy sauce.

Dave Rivera

A good way to add a seal to a parchment note or envelope is to pour a bit of candle wax (red looks the best) on the parchment where the signature would go. Pour enough to cover a large coin, like a quarter. Then press something that will leave an interesting imprint. Coins, cufflings, pendants, jewellery, you name it. This works best if you wait for the wax to dry a bit first, or else it might stick. It will make an imprint and look like a signet ring. Itís harder to get an envelope to stick, so you may have to increase the amount of wax used.

vipera aspis

I am a special effects artist by trade and sometimes i get paid to do research for means to create things like these: and since this is the glorious fraternity of shadows i will share my technique used for various projects and films I have worked on.

Materials- Several sheets of paper (3-5) that will fit through your printer. Look for something absorbent but not to think (too thick and it jams). Try various sketching papers, bible paper, blank newsprint or my personal favorite; disposable paper placemats. Other materials you need are: 2.5 gallons of water, tea bags(2-3) or iced tea mix, coco powder, ground coffee, a couple handfuls of earth, yellow food coloring, empty tea bags(1-2) and something to clip them with, two tall open top containers that could hold one gallon or more each, a small spray bottle, four small stones(i use oversized D4s) and one large stone(2-3lb) and finally two wooden boards large enough to cover your papers.

note. they drying times are often for a few hours to a day or more. I usually go to work, work on game or a random industrial nightclub in between steps. i.e. this can be done in between other things.

The Process-

  1. Start by taking a single sheet of paper and printing your document on it. If your paper is too small, try attaching it to a normal printed sheet. Attach at the corners of the smaller to the larger with some scotch tape. Once printed, rejoin it with the rest of the paper.
  2. Take the tall open top containers and mix a normal tea in each(do not be concerned with tea strength yet), using two of the 2.5 gallons of water, split so that one gallon goes in each container. You should have some water left, place it into the spray bottle leaving room for around two to three table spoons of yellow food coloring. Now add the yellow food color to the spray bottle and set it aside.
  3. Take the coffee grounds and place it in a empty tea bag and clip it. Drop it into tea container A. and let it seep. Take a fourth-cup of your powdered coco and add it straight to tea container B. and stir. At this time lay out your paper in a row, now use your sm. spray bottle and spray back and fourth over all the sheets. Do not stop and target any of the sheets specially, as it will look inorganic at the end. Just spray enough to have the paper dotted and be weaker in some areas; you're not going for total coverage. Now let it dry.
  4. Once dry take the paper roll it loosely and dunk it into tea container A. and depending on it's structure (you donít want mush) hold it under for a few seconds at a time up to half a minute. Repeat this with each sheet. Lay them out and let them dry. Once the paper has dryed follow suit with tea container B. Repeating and drying. Do the whole thing twice, A. to B. then A. to B. again. Most of your time is spent drying. Then begin the process once more but stopping after A. and...
  5. take your wet sheet of paper and place it on your board (spinkle your board lightly with earth before you place the paper down). Then sprinkle earth ontop of the wet paper and place the second board on top of the paper. Let it dry. While it does, run a couple of dried sheets of processed paper through the printer with your document on it. Once the original wet sheet between the boards has dried remove it and dust off all the dirt with your hand. Make sure nothing is stuck to it. And run it through the printer with your document on it.
  6. Take the two sheets of document emblazoned processed paper from before and dip them in the containers (one in A. two in B.). Sprinkle earth on your base board and lay the sheet down. Cover it with a healthy amount of earth(so the second wet sheet wont stick) and place the second sheet over it,; again sprinkle with earth but place the small stones; one at each corner of the papers now apply the top board and the large stone on top of that. Let them dry. If you have any left over non-fully processed paper; be creative with it(i usually print it then bury it in the dirt for about a week or so).
  7. Otherwise once everything is dried and dusted off, lay them out next to each other and pick your best one. They should all be at least slightly different, from the first one that was printed after the first yellow spraying on to the ones that had airflow in the final step. Some will be easier to read then others, but thatís half the fun.

Hope this was helpful.


You can also transfer photocopies on to all sorts of materials.

You can, for example, take a good fresh dark photocopy and transfer it to aluminum foil with a simple clothes-iron. Simply place the photocopy face down and iron it on to the foil at high heat.

Also, you can take a mirror-image print out (like a map) from your computer, photocopy it (fresh & dark again), place the copy face down on your chosen surface (like, say, a gesso'd canvas), coat the back of the photocopy with citristrip (a citrus based wood stripper), and you'll have a correct-reading document on whatever material you desire.

Keep in mind that some materials work better than others. (For example, non-porous linoleum doesn't work so well.) So, you may have to experiment a bit. Don't forget that citristrip removes varnish, so anything that requires varnish after transfer will need to be rinsed clean and that may rinse off the photocopy toner if the transfer doesn't take.

vipera aspis

Speeding the drying process only gives you more variables in the end. which is exactly what you need. try the sun, the oven, a hairdryer and if it's summer try a aquarium over the sheet directly in the sun.

Guardian of Twilight

Back in high school, we had to keep a Civil War diary for our U.S. History class. My teacher (one of the best ever) told us that a great way to make paper take on an aged look was to pour coffee (the cheap stuff obviously) into a bowl and take the paper you're going to use and let it soak for a couple of minutes. Then take it out and let it dry. I've used this to great affect over the years. Hope this helps.


If you have access to photoshop you can produce some decent attempts at old parchment graphics which you then print et voila!

Check this link for a simple walkthrough: http://graphicssoft.about.com/library/uc/jwoodscontent/QuickParchment.pdf


Unfortunately, that's only step one of the process if you want to make prop-quality handouts. A print out looks like a print out regardless of the snazzy effects you can do in Photoshop.

Even if you do start with an inkjet print out, you still have to age the paper its printed on. And if you use the tried-and-true tea/coffee immersion method, you run the risk of obliterating important details on your handout. (You can, of course, age your paper first and then print on it. But it has to be 100% dry (at least three days drying time) before printing otherwise your ink might not take.)

This is why I suggested using photocopy transfer in my previous post in this thread. This way, you can age your materials first and then transfer the photocopy onto it. Plus this method allows you to use materials other than paper. Want to hand your group an old canvas pirate map ? You can do it with this method.

PS: BTW, don't use a microwave or home oven to dry tea/coffee soaked documents. That's too much of a fire hazard. Hair dryers and the very good aquarium-in-the-sun suggestion work better. . . they're just slower.


Cold hands

Stu of the Kargatane

In his campaign, Stu once used an interesting Ďcold handsí trick. His players were to meet a vampire, but then the players did not know the undead nature of the NPC. Behind his DM screens, he secretly clutched an ice pack, to make his hands ice cold. Then he rose from his DM seat and actually shook hands with all the players when they met the NPC, evil smile at their surprise Ö


Haunted Alleyway

Wiccy of the Fraternity

I first used this gimmick during an online game, but found it to much fun to leave it alone. The party rogue was attempting to sneak down a darkened alley to reach the rear of a building. To simulate the darkness I turned off the lights and lit several candles to allow play. While they were discussing their plans I pulled out a telescopic pointer and pulled it out to full length. The rogue was roughly half way down the alley when I told him that he could feel something brushing against his leg, at this moment I birched his leg with the pointer. Since he was opposite from me he naturally blamed the innocent player sitting next to him. Later I let them in on the secret, once the session was over at least.


Pictures and Drawings


A picture is worth 1000 words... The Ravenloft books are full of pictures. Why hog them for yourself? I copy and display the pictures of most major NPC's, and some landscapes and locations to get the feel across. It helps the players keep everyone straight, and allows you to save time in description for important things. Why describe the woman's hairstyle, face and clothes when you can be conveying her movements and the feelings she projects?


Props and Dramatics

Wiccy of the Fraternity

If you have trouble getting things across in a certain scene, have yourself and the group play it out theatrically. Move the table aside if necessary and get some room for the short dramatization. Props are useful, a long stick could be a sword, but toy ones are great, real are even better if you can get your hands on them and trust they can be used safely. If a person is going to have their throat cut, a little fake blood, a blunt knife and a little squeezy to push the blood out is a fantastic way of doing things. Nothing helps set the mood than a little bit of dramatics and the promise of some extra experience should be enough to get the players to go along.


Real Life Dramatic Actions

Wiccy of the Fraternity

Some proper character acting and dramatics also helps, have the players act out their motions as a drama group would. I have done this several times and it really helps the players get into things when just a narrative or singular character acting wouldn't do the job. For example, I had a group tracking down a serial killer only to have the killer panic and jump at them. One of the party members was caught off guard, pushed to the ground and had a knife placed at their throat. The players didn't seem too threatened so I had them take the positions in the garden while I kneeled over the character that had fallen with a ruler pressed to their throat (didn't think it was safe to use an actual knife). From there on, things changed as the players realised that by the time they could reach their friend he would be dead. A new sense of mortality comes over players who can see things in the right perspective, something miniatures cannot do but the group can physically.


Volume of Your Voice


When action gets heated, take the volume from your voice, speak softly and watch, people will literally sit on the edge of their seats. Always a good piece of Advice that one.


Water Splash


Something that I did only once but got quite positive response from most of the group was the squirt bottle trick. The characters were tracking a monster that they had determined to kill its prey by means of acidic spit and were closing in on it. As the PCs entered a dark tomb in pursuit, I had them briefly turn the lights off, and at my cue turn them back on. As the lights came back up, I quickly produced a squirt bottle full of warm water and sprayed the nearest player. A mild shriek was produced, along with the rest of the group's applause. I wouldn't recommend doing this too often, but as a dirty trick it works well.


Creepy Atmosphere

C. C. Hardin

I have found that in setting up the gaming room, a CD of random creeks, moans, howls, wind, and other unexplainable noises, coming from seemingly nowhere, works well to freak people out. Iíve used hidden speakers and a handheld remote, or even my PlayStation 2 with its remote. Lighting the room scarcely and using oil lamps helps to cause unexplainable movements that cause players to get creeped out. On really nice summer nights we would play at an old cemetery (after getting permission). This really creeps people out. Another trick is to keep your dice in a dicebag with those freezer packs in it. Roll the dice and then ask a player to hand them to you. The cold and clammy dice will really add a freak out factor.


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To contribute to the Evil DM Trick, send your ideas to Joel@fraternityofshadows.com

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