298: The DM Is a DJ

The DM Is a DJ

Movies and videogames both use soundtracks to help tell stories, and with just a little planning, your pen-and-paper RPG can, too.

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Good to see another DM who use the Battlestar soundtrack! Bear McCreary's works just seem so well fitting for decent RPG sessions.

And I like the Fur Elise in an alien enviroment idea. I may have to steal it.

Many of my best campaigns were inspired by and scored by Genesis; the old Peter Gabriel stuff mostly.
We played a lot of other music of course but I found that old prog-rock stuff very inspiring.
Back when I used to play a lot we didn't have ipods or anything like that (at least, we couldn't afford anything like that) but that must be great for switching between different moods.

Haha, a novel idea. I love it.

I've experimented with this in a couple of Shadowrun games. Tenor Sax heavy jazz tunes for Noir esque scenes, and Industrial Rock for the fights. I think it was a neat little touch, but I don't think I executed it as well as I could.

After reading this I think I'll try it again.

If I pull my finger out I might even write my own score.

Nice. I´m currently GM´ming a Star Wars campaign (set in the Old Republic)and i used the star wars opening crawl and i could tell the players liked the audio (and visual) cue that transports them into that universe.
Tomorrow i´ll be using a few tracks from various movie soundtracks in the game session. I hope it works!

Right on. I ran a Mage: the Ascension game about a decade ago backed by Beethoven, Queen, The Crystal Method, mid-90s goth-industrial, the Shaft soundtrack and the Perry Mason theme. The plot borrowed liberally from two prog-metal concept albums: Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime and Dream Theater's Scenes From a Memory. The music was an essential part of the whole experience.

My DM ran the best and most fun DnD campaign I've ever been involved with... it was heavily because of his sudden idea to use music from the same computer he had the rarer sourcebooks on.

I'm pretty sure that Darth Vader DOES hear the "The Imperial March" when he's striding the deck of his Star Destroyer.

If anyone's interested in checking out some cool stuff, I ran a DnD campaign only using Midnight Syndicate tracks. They're really good for setting a creepy mood.

Thats awesome. If I had the time to DM, I think I'd play the soundtrack from Lost Kingdoms because sadly enough, very very few people I know have played that game.

And it just sounds... so good.

One of my local DMs used music for a particularly atmospheric part of his game's storyline. The group ran into no opposition until the final room in a castle, but along the way, the DM dimmed the lights, lit a candelabra with red candles, and put on some creepy music. He's taken acting classes, too, so he was able to perfectly go along with the atmosphere once we found a recently-tortured man in the basement of the castle. So yeah, it was pretty cool.

My roommate did something similar for a Halloween campaign, but he made the music and atmospheric tunes himself by recording them off of his electric keyboard. He added sounds like vases breaking, doors creaking, and even heartbeats throughout the whole thing. It was pretty damn cool.

My DM uses total war/Epic movies like 300 soundtracks and/or some folk metal in the background as our world is really dark and violent. We think it fits it pretty well and really adds some atmosphere in tense moments. Long live D&D!

I already spend too much time writing, drawing and doing the math on an adventure every week to craft any specific soundtrack, but my friend is gracious enough to make generic instrumental playlists, from people like Buckethead and Les Claypool, etc.

That ensures that we always have something playing that's both interesting and unobtrusive, just to distract that particular part of the brain that contributes to annoying side-conversations at the expense of roleplaying.

I did that with my D&D campaign, using a large playlist of battle-appropriate songs (mostly from videogames) for fights. Admittedly, I didn't choose specific songs for specific moments except for playing the Final Fantasy fanfare at the end of every victory.

I need to find some good Western-themed songs for my Serenity game. I've got some from Red Dead Redemption and Starcraft II, but that's only a few.

I don't actually go through the process of timing cues and changing songs for announcing crits and the like, but this is something I've been doing for a while now, anyway. I have several albums that are go-to albums for D&D sessions. I tend to use a lot of Hiromi Uehara, Philip Glass and Battles. I also have a few game and film soundtracks that I like to use. Puzzle sequences are usually punctuated with Thomas Dvorak's beautiful work on the Machinarium Sountrack, where you're more likely to find me playing tracks from the Beyond Good & Evil soundtrack to create a creeping, uneasy atmosphere. Other game soundtracks I use include: Shadow of the Colossus which has good sounds for most things you'd want in a campaign, Lost Odyssey which has a few gems, Chrono Cross, various Final Fantasy games (including the entire discography of the Black Mages). To be honest, though, I find that just having a good album that encompasses the general feeling of your campaign, works extraordinarily well for atmosphere. More often than not all I will play is: Philip Glass' Glassworks followed by his Heroes and Lows symphonies, with Hiromi's Spiral once that's all done.

Fun thing occured during one of the roleplaying competition around. Playing through a steam-punk inspired fantasy setting adventure the fire alarm at the Café went off. I't couldn't be switched off for a long time, and one of the DMs used it in his tale as a self destruction signal and a time limit for the party to leave a sinking artificial island.

For music I like old time videogame music that a few know nowadays. Asghan the Dragon Slayer, Silver and such wonderful soundtracks works really well. I liked the idea of the pauseable music inside the campaign. I will use it on of these days ... Nice to read something like this arouns.

The answer is:

Basil Poledouris Conan the Barbarian soundtrack in the background by default.
Ren fest lute music in towns and taverns.
In Extremo, Rammstien, Eisbrecher, other German metal during combat.
Except if you fight vampires the its Type-0 negative.

Those are a good start, my players loved it. I would the mp3 player and the bagpipes of In Extremo came up and I would shout "roll for initiative!" and that got the whole table totally pumped.

Dammit I'm annoyed for at this article for making me want to DM again considering how much work it is.

I remember a special game of team RPG I participated in (with three GMs!), where the story revolved around a Blood Bowl tournament, and of course they used music for enhancing the mood. Now, they only had two tracks for the entire game; a sort of medieval minstrel-ish song for the inn where we stayed, and Queens We Will Rock You for the Blood Bowl games. And it was fucking epic, if you excuse the language. It really got you pumped and excited while "watching" the games.

Definitely a technique I will use, should I ever start as a GM.

Recently played a game in which one of my players put the Tron: Legacy soundtrack on in the background. Epic music started playing right at the climax of the night as the prehistoric players attempted to free a captured forest god before an unknown enemy from another dimension captured it.

On cue with the end of song, one player totally Kratos climbed the 3 story beast and yanked the chain off from around it's neck. They then proceeded to jump off of the building. As it was sucked into a machine appearing 'through' the sky. Yeah... music is essential to the experience.

My old roommate back n college would use the huge song library he collected on his laptop during his RP-sessions. One time he even put on the FFVII battle theme and yelled out "Random Battle!" as the party had just been ambushed.

Thanks for weighing in, everyone! I've been wanting to write this piece for a long time, and I'm glad to discover that I'm not alone in my fandom for tabletop-RPG music.

Crimson Dragoon, if you're looking for music for your Serenity campaign, you could do a lot worse than to dig up the actual Firefly soundtrack by Greg Edmonson (who also wrote the scores for the Uncharted games). Alan Silvestri has done some great Western film music for movies like Back to the Future III and The Quick and the Dead and even his score for Gore Verbinski's The Mexican is awfully entertaining. Classic Ennio Morricone scores from the classic spaghetti Westerns might even suit you.

Thanks for all the suggestions in this thread for new soundtracks and battle music and so forth, everyone! I've got a lot of new music to seek out, I think.


The DM Is a DJ

Movies and videogames both use soundtracks to help tell stories, and with just a little planning, your pen-and-paper RPG can, too.

Read Full Article

As a musician myself, I whole-heartedly support the notion that music is a critical addition to atmosphere. Nothing in the history of mankind stirs emotion in the same way as music, which is why you'll find it on every corner of the planet. Some places don't have video games, or even electricity and running water, but you can bet your ass they've got music.

I do have a question for you, though, about this approach, particularly when you're using music that intimately ties to your narration. Have you found that this can sometimes limit the choices your players can make, or that some of the spontaneity has gone?

The reason I ask is I've done tabletop gaming with many different crowds. Some were straight-up dice-based combat simulation groups, and others were all about the spontaneous narrative, and still others were about the GM telling a story while the players followed what essentially amounted to a loose script.

I've found that the more moving parts a game has, the more important it can seem for the GM to "keep things on track." Have you encountered groups for whom this approach doesn't work, or have you been able to successfully adapt it to them?

I'll be honest, as soon as you gave the hypothetical example of the marine promising that they'd drink the PC under the table, I immediately thought of Mass Effect 2.
Jacob very literally say something which is almost word for word to that.

One of my first DMs put us in a canyon in the middle of an unnatural windstorm, and he put on a recording of Flight of the Valkyries at an insaaaane volume. It worked tremendously well; we had to raise our voices to even talk, and even then, we were barely able to hold a conversation. Of course, it also meant we couldn't communicate with the DM, but it still helped set the scene very effectively.


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