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Role-playing Rants: Can't stop the beat, or how to correctly utilise music during your games

There are a lot of things that can make a single, ordinary RPG session, truly awesome. One of them is a climactic soundtrack, specifically tailored for the oncoming game. But how to utilise it to its fullest extent?

Game music (and possibly ambient sounds) is a tricky medium to master. First of all, I'd suggest to not base your entire game on it. I've known people who have created entire adventures, based on a single track from a movie or video game. While it usually worked rather well, more often than not a single derail on the PC's part made the whole thing change its course, and the final, dramatic tune had to be either abandoned or used in a different matter. Life sucks, I know. From my experience it's a great idea to base a single scene or maybe a chapter, on your favorite "Gladiator" OST. They are usually short enough to warrant success, not to mention it's easier to control what's going on during a single chapter, than an entire campaign. Just saying.

Music is important. Controlling what's going on with the world that you're creating, even more so!
Next we have the age-old problem of what kind of music to actually use? The aforementioned "Gladiator" soundtrack would probably work great for your average fantasy-based game. WFRP, Dungeons & Dragons, Conan - these are the kind of setting that could benefit from loud, epic and pompous OST's, at least for most of their sessions. It's a no-brainer really. But what about using a less than obvious tunes for our next game of "The Enemy Within"? I've got good news for you, my fellow Gamemaster, it's absolutely possible. However there's a catch - you'll need to utilise the age-old trial and error technique. The results, however, are almost always worth it. For example, in my games of WFRP I'm using a lot of Irish jigs. The "Rocky Road to Dublin" and a lot of tracks from both "Sherlock Holmes" movies with Robert Downey Jr. are a great addition to my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games. Another example of a less-than-obvious music used right, is the entire "Deus Ex" OST, which I've been playing during my Hunter: The Reckoning sessions. They've worked wonders, especially during the night scenes and investigative parts.

In this day and age most of us are lucky enough to possess a laptop or a tablet. Smartphones are a standard part of our everyday lives. Because of this, we're having free access to apps like Spotify and online services like YouTube. Spotify is perfect for composing your very own playlists for different game systems. YouTube, however, is where it's at. It's a bloody gold mine of music for every, single occasion. Single clips or whole playlists, entire albums of every music genre ever created (I once used a Renaissance-era party music for a ball in Nuln) - YouTube has it all, and more! I especially recommend Adrian von Ziegler for all your fantasy needs and various game OST's for more modern/futuristic stuff. There are even RPG-oriented playlists, like music from taverns, forest music, winter music, sewer music etc. YouTube is your friend, when it comes to building the perfect mood by utilizing some nice, appropriate tunes. Trust me on that.

For all your RPG-music-related needs, accept no substitues
Finally there's the case of ambient sounds. It's a simple thing for me - I'm not using them. Music, good, climactic music, is all that I need in my games. If a track that's currently playing, has any ambience within it, all the better. That said, I'm not using any sort of environmental clips, as I'm not really seeing a point in doing so. Besides, I've always believed that a good GM needs to master the adventure that he's running, as well as the atmosphere and feel of the world which he creates. Being a part-time DJ should not be part of his duties, as it's simply too distracting and time-consuming. Just my two cents.

Here's hoping that you'll be able to expertly use various musical tracks in your games. It's not that hard and, just like with everything else regarding this hobby, remember to not rely solely on the tunes, no matter how good they might be. After all, they're just a part of a greater whole, an experience in which you and your players partake during your weekly sessions. It's like a meal, composed from many, different ingredients. While each of them might be tasty in its own right, only by combining them together will you be able to create a unique and truly memorable feast for the senses.

Until next time!


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