During the course of my D&D life, I've seen a lot of DMs use real-life gimmicks to keep their games interesting. Here's a couple that come to mind: One DM would go out and buy small glass bottles and fill them with juice or soda and give them to his players when they found a potion in the game. Whenever it came time for their character to down the potion, the player would have to do the same. According to the DM, this added a small touch of realism to his game. He also mentioned how making the player drink the potion in real life made the potions in his game so much more important. Another gimmick that I recall is a DM who used poker chips to represent coins. Anytime a player gained or used or lost coins they would have to keep track of it in real time with the poker chips. Apparently, this made the players a lot more careful with their in-game currency and much more cautious with their dealings which, in turn, enhanced the roleplaying.
I've also heard of many other gimmicks such as giving out glass gems to represent in-game ones, only allowing the player with the "talking stick" to speak during combat, and even asking the wizard of the party to speak in Latin when casting their spells or the Bard to actually sing his/her songs. All of these extra bits are designed with one purpose in mind: to get the players more immersed in the game. And frankly, as long as none of these gimmicks go too far or are potentially harmful in some foreseeable way, I'm all for it.
To illustrate, here are three of the real-life gimmicks I have used myself:
1) The Character Obituary
Shortly after their character has died, a player may be feeling a bit down. They've worked hard on creating something that has now been lost to them in some manner. Surprisingly, some players may take the loss of a character harder than they would a distant real life relative. I know I've seen something along those lines and I'll bet I'm not the only one. So, to help them move on and maybe even look back with a fond memory or two, I've come up with the Character Obituary. This is just a short little blurb about the character that would appear just as any other obituary would in your local newspaper. Here's a sample of what I mean taken from the death of a character in one of my recent games:
Mal, Drow Rogue, assassin specialty. Mal's life, while not that long, was full of good memories and many good laughs. His primary claim to fame was being the official trap detection device for his party, as well as picking locks and backstabbing foes when it suited him. He found particular joy in killing goblins and other such small unseemly creatures. Alas, Mal was felled by a Beholder via turning him into stone, biting off his statue's head, and grinding it into gravel. Although there was a suggestion tossed around that the head could be glued back together like a 3D puzzle, it was ultimately denied. Mal is survived by his fellow party members and a talking parrot by the name of Grady O'Malley."
It's simple, not hard to do, and it will allow the player and the group as whole to remember a character that may have played a big part in getting them where they are. Personally, I like to post these up on Facebook but you could print them off and give them out almost like sympathy cards.
2) The Achievement Badges
Another little thing I've been experimenting with is giving out my groups and players achievement badges. These badges are earned in-game just like the old Boy-Scout and Girl-Scout badges and they help the players and groups remember major events in their gaming careers. A badge would usually be given out after a major event like the group killing its first epic monster, or surviving a centerpiece dungeon, doing something extremely rare like finding a +5 weapon, or even completing a whole campaign. Again, I post these badges on my playing group's Facebook page, but I'm sure you could find dozens of interesting ways to create real-life ones. Perhaps even create actual badges to be sewn on backpacks, jackets, etc.
3) The Retelling of the Story
I've used this one on and off for years and I think I've decided that I need to keep it around for good. At the beginning of each game session I ask one of my players to volunteer to recount the events from last week. Now how they do this and in what style is completely up to them and let me just say that I've found some of them downright hilarious.
For example, I've heard the story retold like a 1930's radio announcer recounting what happened in the "last episode". I've heard the story retold in a completely biased manner that made the coward of the party seem like the hero. I've heard the story retold in slurred "dunk speech" and I've also heard it told in many ways that put extra emphasis on the really bone-headed moves some of the party members made (to which everyone would laugh). Personally, I reward my players with 100xp for each time they tell the story and I'm proud to say that most players jump at the opportunity to put their little spin on the history of the adventure.
Simple little things like these help make the D&D experience seem more real and gives the players something that they really can't get from most other games: personalization. When your DM or your fellow players care enough to give or make something exclusively for you or for your character ,you can feel like the most important person in the world. For me, that's a big part of what D&D is all about.