The soundtrack of a game

Just a short post today, posing a question I had never even considered (being the newb I am) until last weekend.

Do you use music to set the mood when you game?

To me, even the thought of music intruding upon my gaming session would have been distressing just a short time ago. Then I ended up listening to a song out of Apocalyptica's Inquisition Symphony album during a game last weekend and I must say, it actually did add to the atmosphere. Everyone agreed to try adding in a little music some other time, though I want to be very careful with it, seeing as I still think too much background noise could be utterly distracting with my group.

But now that the seed has been planted, the ideas roam rampant and unchecked. I'm thinking of using some Blue Öyster Cult for a Mutant Future game I've got planned. Can't argue that Dancing in the Ruins would make for an...interesting mood setter.

I suppose it only goes to say that as an icebreaker a bit of music can help set the tone and style for the game. Some eerie chords play as your stalwart adventurers explore ancient ruins...a rousing drum solo calls the charge of battle to mind...a harp sends the lulling message of a peaceful valley into the fires of the imagination. All things that can be achieved without music, but with the addition of music the scene is better understood and more vividly imagined as different senses come into play.

After all, how interesting would Walt Disney's Fantasia be without its musical compliment?

I suppose the concept of props beyond player handouts have never really appealed to me. Heck, I don't even use minis or battlemaps unless absolutely necessary as space at my table is at a premium and I don't like to clutter things up. But the more I game the more I realize that gaming is, at its best, an experience that can use more than mere words to help convey the setting.

So how about it? Have any of you had good experiences in utilizing music while gaming? Or bad experiences for that matter?


  1. In traveller we use a list of honky tonk country, soul and southern rock to represent the nostalgia for earth during better days. We even made a D66 list of the jukebox at Murphy's Bar & Grill, the local bar on our spacestation in the spinward marches:

  2. That reminds me of Cowboy Bebop, but calling back to the South instead of to Chicago et al. Cool stuff.

    I've been meaning to use a soundtrack in one of my games, but it's never materialized. Thinking of grabbing some Half-Life 2 stuff to use for the party who's trapped in a Fae dimension.

  3. When I have gamed in the past we listened to the LOTR soundtracks in the background. We played it loud enough so there was ambient music, but not so loud that it distracted from the game play.

  4. I love using music in my games. You keep it low in the background so people don't have to talk over it and its not distracting. Movie soundtracks are a good source of gaming music because there is usually no lyrics for people to sing along with :)

    I use a lot of Conan, Krull and Kingdom of Heaven for fantasy
    Escape from New York, Dawn of the Dead [2004} and the new Tron: Legacy work well for post-apocalyptic games.

    Classical is also good. But I shy away from anything pop just because people recognize the songs and then start singing along or it takes them out of the game and into the music.

  5. Book_ScorpionFebruary 17, 2011

    We usually have music. Deadlands is greatly improved by using Western soundtracks - Ennio Morricone rules. The Sleepy Hollow soundtrack is great for Vampire, but we overused it. Pirates of the carribean is ideal for 7th Sea of course. For our last Shadowrun session, the gamemaster brought the Blade Runner soundtrack and I think that Ghost in the Shell would work as well.

    The gamemaster of my Cthulhu group owns several CDs by Erdenstern, a group that does music specifically for roleplaying. Those are pretty awesome and very effective in creating and suporrting the mood. Here's their website

  6. CDGallant_KingFebruary 17, 2011

    I've always found the trick to using music in games is to keep it simple. While it's tempting to use special music for each scene (soft eerie music for exploring, stirring epic music for climatic battles, Justin Bieber for love scenes, etc.), you're just adding extra work for yourself, fumbling with CDs or tracklists in iTunes or whatever. Just pick an appropriate soundtrack (preferably 60-90 minutes worth so it doesn't get too repetitive) and play it in the background.

    My favourite music I've used recently is Trent Reznor's "Ghosts" album for a Dead Reign campaign (Great setting, terrible rules. Fucking Palladium). Creepy, atmospheric industrial - reminds me of Resident Evil.

  7. That is really groovy! I've been itching to run a Traveller game for ages now and I never would have thought of that kind of musical mix. It seems like it would give it a more familiar, kind of down-to-earth vibe (which is actually in line with the older Traveller features like cassette tapes and somewhat primitive computers).

  8. Exactly! Something to keep the mood fun but not distract. And actually the Peter Jackson LOTR movies had great music for an epic sense of adventure.

  9. That's a good point about the pop-ish tunes (or anything with lyrics actually) being a distraction. I think if I ever used my BOC example, I'd probably only run the song at the start, perhaps even before play, and then use a non-lyrical soundtrack for the game itself.

    And really, some groovy choices there. I cannot see an instance where a Basil Poledouris soundtrack would be a bad thing. Conan the Barbarian has one of the single best musical scores of all time. :)

  10. Ennio Morricone does, indeed, kick seven kinds of ass. Although I think I'd try to use some of his lesser known works, 'cause if I just recycled his score on the Dollars trilogy for every western game I tried to run, my players would all start acting like Clint. ;)

    I've heard about some of those music CDs created specifically for gaming. I think RPGNow has several songs and soundtracks for sale that are meant specifically for roleplaying. I've never tried one so far, but I'm mighty tempted. That Erdenstern has a lovely website and looks really neat; I'll have to have a listen and see if they would be any good for a non-horror game, as my group still refuses to touch Call of Cthulhu.

  11. Yeah, the less work for me, the better. Hell, an automated playlist would be essential should I want to do anything like that. And I know I'm far too lazy to make that work. :P

    Movie soundtracks really do seem like the way to go, or purely instrumental pieces. A bit of Ventures maybe for a 60's-era game of Austin Powers-style spy parody.

  12. We have had music before - often just the LOTR sound track, or when I had digital cable, we would try the "Ambient Music" channel or others like that. backfired the one time though when someone switch the channel and found a porn on TMN at 1am... game got derailed for a few miutes there...

  13. wow, I should really re-read what I wrote before hitting reply! Please know I'm at hour 14 of a 15h work day...

  14. :) indeed. The owner of the local bar at the spacestation is a nostalgic Solomani. Apart from honky tonk and southern rock on the jukebox he has his bar filled with baseball and western parafernalia. Your cosy piece of earth in a desolate system.

    Mind you, our spacecraft is regularly being repaired using gaffertape and welding. It's not the kind of sterile, high tech scifi

  15. CDGallant_KingFebruary 18, 2011

    I forgot about the ambient music channel! Yeah, that was some fucked up noise. Hilariously, trippingly awesome.

    And if you have to stop the game for SOMETHING, might as well be porn...

  16. I'm a big fan of music on game night. Here is what I like to use:

  17. A cool list!

    And I couldn't help but notice the Conan soundtrack on there as well. Damn it, I might as well just buy the album of every single movie Basil Poledouris has ever scored. That man makes epic music in the most epic manner possible.


Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting at Rule of the Dice.

Greatest Hits

Love, Sex & Dice

Top 4 Bands That Write Songs Based on Their D&D Campaign

10 More Zombie Survival Intro Scenarios

Sodor Stories: Thomas the Tank Engine RPG (Powered by FATE Accelerated)

You Can Have Fun Without Dice

10 Zombie Survival Intro Scenarios

Why My Favourite D&D Class Sucks