Today we have a very special guest post from our very own DarkMagus, highlighting his Gaming Music “Campaign” please have a read!
We are used to piecing the world together through five senses (for those of us fortunate enough to have full use of all of our senses). When watching a film we have only two senses which are available to this work, sight and sound. We are not fully immersed, we are aware that we are merely watching pictures on a screen and that the words we hear are coming from speakers somewhere.
There is also the problem of creating suspension of disbelief. We know the film is fake, that these events are not real, not unfolding before us at the very moment we watch us, yet how many of us do not know at least one person who yells at horror movies (“Get out of there!, or “Run you idiot!”, etc.)? How many of us can say that they haven’t felt their heart skip a beat or haven’t been moved to tears by a scene? Creating suspension of disbelief and the feeling of immersion in a film is aided by darkening the lights, so that the world around the audience disappears temporarily (out of sight out of mind).
Taking the audience out of the real world and putting them into an imaginary world requires then that the film makes good use of the two senses available to them. Low budget films with “cheesy” visual effects can make any good scene simply laughable. The element of sound must also be fitting. Sound effects should synch up with their visual cues. Music should fit the mood and setting, and should be the appropriate pace.
Setting the Tone
If the famous battle track from Gladiator played during March of the Penguins, while humorous, the movie wouldn’t have had its calming tone and the majesty of nature would have been lost in its juxtaposition with the epic feel track. If Waking Life had used 80’s synth-pop a whole dimension of the film would have been lost and the audience would have just felt confused instead of a traveling companion on a surreal journey through an unexplored and intangible aspect of reality. If German techno or 1990’s gangster rap was used for The Lord of the Rings we would have denounced Peter Jackson’s choice of music. Not only would the mood and pace of the movie not have matched the music, but this classic medieval story would have suddenly come into the modern times like a lost time traveler.
The role of music in your table top RPG parallels the role of music in film- I might dare to argue it may even be more important because of the lack of a visual element. Sure we have our mind’s eye where we watch the game unfold before us, but this isn’t real sight. I like to play games in dim lighting, either candle light or low light, often using colored lights, as to take the visual aspects of the real world out of focus, like in movie theatres. But with nothing to actually watch, the entire game and the magic of being taken to another world happens through our ears. Adding some ambience or mood music adds depth to this experience and helps immerse the audience.
Picking appropriate music
Appropriate music should be chosen by considering the three elements I mention above- mood, setting, and pace. Mood is how the track makes you feel. If you are planning a creepy scene then a track full of triumphant fanfare and blazing brass sections will most likely take away from the atmosphere you are trying to create, and may impact the game beyond just the feeling. Players who aren’t afraid because they are laughing at the music or making movie references may not play their character the same as if they were scared. How they feel might influence their actions and therefore the course of your game.
Setting is important, but is the one element which can be fun to play with because it is much more flexible. You might find trance music inappropriate to your 13th century England based game, but the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop, an anime set in the future added to the feeling of a unique setting by playing jazz and blues instead of more modern or futuristic sounding music.
Setting the Pace
Pace is an important element that is often overlooked. If your party is sitting around the campfire talking about the day’s events or planning for their next adventure, it is best to pick something slow or just still ambience. This will suspend time and not rush the players to stop talking. We all know we want to get more role playing scenes out of our players and putting on fast paced, “lets hurry up and get the job done” kind of music will just remind them that they wanted to fight that wight in the swamp next to town instead of getting lost in talking about their characters’ thoughts and feelings, maybe revealing important secrets or back-story elements not revealed yet. If however they have just stormed the castle and are fighting the evil duke who has poisoned their kidnapped companion then I pick music with a much faster pace and turn it up.
This sense of being overwhelmed by the music combined with the feeling of action from the quicker tempo can up their heartbeats and really make the players feel like they are running out of time. This is a good time to talk quick and loud and flail your arms about. Be overly dramatic when they should be engrossed in the moment and not taking time to careful plan out their battle strategy and meta-game it to death. They are there, the fight is happening, don’t give them extra time to think, well no more time than their character would have. If a player can’t decide their action they lose their turn until the end of the round. Pace is something that everyone should really be feeling at your table, and music really helps with that.
Gaming Music: A Music Resource for DMs
Gaming Music is a “campaign” here on Obsidian Portal created by me (DarkMagus). Users Gaaran and Dethstryke and I have begun putting up reviews of albums that you might find useful for your gaming experience. Albums are categorized and listed alphabetically as well as tagged so you can choose to browse the reviews or search by tags (such as violin, modern, spooky, calm, etc.) to find appropriate music. Dethstryke had the brilliant idea of using the “Characters” tab for composers and artists, so it is easier to find other works reviewed by that same artist. Gaaran has added the “Playlist Helper” which provides some basic playlist types and explains what they are and what types of music belong in them. There are plans to expand this idea into the “Adventure Logs” with sample playlists. The idea is that DMs looking for a certain type of music in a hurry can check out the sample playlists to find appropriate tracks very quickly.
There are already over 100 albums reviewed and a very long to-do list submitted by fans and others. Check it out and let us know what you think. If there is anything you think should be added please let us know.