I have been reluctant to post this article, as my groups rarely use props (beyond the letter or map). That is not to say I wouldn’t use props, I think they could add a lot given the right group. Here is a list of possible props for use with your D&D, Savage Worlds, World of Darkness or any fantasy setting.
Beggar’s cup– put a few coins in to make noise, extend the cup to a player (form them to place a coin in), and tilt it so they can see a message folded up inside
Scrolls– Spells printed on parchment and sealed with wax and a seal or a ribbon
Sand timer/ hour-glass– I have always wanted to place a massive hourglass on the timer and announce that the players have one hour to exit the dungeon
Coins– Chocolate coins, foreign coins, or if you really want to shine: Campaign Coins
Lock Picks– Maybe the players didn’t know the NPC was a rogue in disguise until they search his room
Jewelry– I found awesome junk rings and brooches at the Good Will store for next to nothing (unless you count the weird looks from the lady at the counter or the hours of mocking from my wife)
Rocks or Geodes– Tumbled rocks can be purchased at a craft store for cheap. Maybe the work as keys or a spell focus
Compass– Maybe it points to treasure, or the last owner’s killer
Weapons– Every geek has a sword or a mace from the flea market or the Renn faire. Just don’t get all hopped up on Mountain Dew and start swinging it at folks
Sealed Letters– Card shops and specialty store carry fancy envelopes and stationary fit to write an invite to Castle Ravenloft on. Maybe find someone who can knows calligraphy to write the letter for you
Leather pouches– place a number of small coins, picks, props, notes, red herrings, in there and let the players figure it all out
Game board– I think we’ve all used a chess puzzle at one point or another
Cards– Skip a combat encounter and play a few hands of Three Dragon Ante with your players in their favorite tavern and give them xp for role-playing. Maybe use poker chips or campaign coins
Tarot cards– Read your players fortune and drop hints about upcoming adventures or let the cards write the next adventure for you
Runes– Take flat rocks and paint strange symbols on them. Make custom runes from clay, Sculpy, or Fimo. Place a codex in the dungeon to decode them
Keys– Buy some old skeleton at a junk shop or antique store. Use a fine tip Sharpie or a knife point to make cryptic markings on them
Books– Take an old book from the used book store or antique shop and hollow it out, or underline certain words that make a different message
Spell book, journal, – Take a blank book and fill it with dark symbols, runes, sketches, bits of information, lies, misdirection, distress, burn, waterlog the text to make it look ancient. Check out sites on Mythos Tomes to get ideas and inspiration
Puzzle Lock– One year at Gen Con, I went through a True Dungeon Session and we had to pick a lock, rather than rolling dice, the DM had an actual puzzle lock that we had to figure out. There are several degrees of locks available on the web, some are quite challenging
Old bottles– add water, a drop of food color, a cork and you got a potion.
Wooden Puzzle– I found some wooden puzzles at Mejiers for five dollars. My players kept finding small wooden pieces, and finally a strangely shaped lock. (note: you may want to build in a secondary path or make the locked room not essential to the adventure so things don’t grind to a halt if the player’s can’t figure out the puzzle.)
Puzzle Box– Hide maps, secrets, deeds, etc in a false bottom
Wand/ Staff– Take a stick from your yard, sand off the bark with coarse grit sandpaper, then smooth with a fine grit. Add a “crystal” to the tip by gluing on a piece of rock salt or quartz. If you really want to get detailed you could add runes with a knife or a wood burning tool
Figurine– A small glass or wooden animal could serve as a figurine of wondrous power.
Globe – Find an old globe at a yard sale, junk shop or Craigslist and repaint it with your game world map.
Gems– Take plastic or glass ‘gems’ from a craft store like Michaels or Hobbylobby and use them as gems, or Ioun stones
Hit those junk, antique, and resale shops, as well as the Renn faire and find a prop for your game. As long as you’re willing to sculpt a story around the object, anything can serve as a great prop.