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 Post subject: Music for Roleplaying
PostPosted: Wed Jan 22, 2014 2:33 pm 
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Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 10:36 am
Posts: 58
So what music do you use for roleplaying?

I will post more fully soon and some hints and tips; however, here is an AMAZING resource to get us started:

PostPosted: Wed Jan 22, 2014 3:51 pm 
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I have four main sources of music for my games: film and TV soundtracks, video game soundtracks, classical music and period music.

I try to avoid tracks that are too well known - main title themes for TV shows, for example, or anything from Star Wars - unless I'm actually running a game in that specific setting; you've got to have the Doctor Who theme for a Doctor Who game, for example. However, some distinctive pieces are so good that I will sometimes ignore this rule (for example, Promentory, from the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack is just too good to ignore).

This is not a comprehensive listing - just some of the things I use, from the top of my head.

Video game soundtracks
Sources: Amazon often carries them. Games downloaded from Steam or Good Old Games ( often include soundtracks as bonus rewards. Some premium versions of games have soundtrack CDs.

Diablo - particularly the gently strummed 12-string guitar in Village. Very moody.
Diablo III - expands on the themes of Diablo with a full orchestra and choir.
Halo - soundtracks for the first three games are marvellous.
Baldur's Gate (and sequels)

Movie & TV soundtracks
Sources: Amazon. Rare premium DVDs carry soundtracks as well.

Last of the Mohicans - superb from start to finish
We Were Soldiers - particularly Sgt Mackenzie
Saving Private Ryan - I generally avoid the main title, but the battle scene is great.
Band of Brothers - everything but the main title.
Withnail & I - good acoustic numbers in this. CD came with the anniversary DVD release
Conan the Barbarian - a classic of game soundtracks. Theology/Civilisation is become a bit cliched in my games, though.
The 13th Warrior - first couple of tracks have some nice Arabesque melodies; the rest is good as well.
The Mummy - also good for Arabian adventures
Battlestar Galactica - the remagined soundtracks by Bear McCreary. All-round good stuff, essential for Battlestar Galactica RPG (as is the original by John Williams).
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Yo-Yo Ma on cello. Just incredible.
Robin of Sherwood - the instrumental pieces, particularly Lady Marian, Battles and Ancient Forest.
Theme from Harry's Game - from Clannad's album Magical Ring
Caislean Or - from Clannad's album Macalla
Gladiator - used sparingly, a couple of tracks (The Battle, Barnarian Horde) can make players feel epic.

Sources: Amazon, Classic Online (one of the few online music shops which allows downloads in this region).

I find symphonies and ballet scores best as game soundtracks - I work on a movement by movement basis on them. Some operas are also useful, particularly the instrumental breaks. Concertos are usually too distracting, though baroque pieces such as the Brandenburg Concertos can work well. Also, anything on solo cello by Yo-Yo Ma is awesome - his solo version of Bach's Cello Suite in G Major is definitive (and was used in the soundtrack for Master & Commander).

Notable pieces:

Montagues & Capulets (Prokoviev), from his score to Romeo & Juliet
Ride of the Valkyrie (Wagner), from Die Valkure
Seigfried's Funeral March (Wagner), from Gotterdammerung
Shepherds' Relief after the Storm (Beethoven), from the Pastoral Symphony
Ode to Joy (Beethoven), from the Choral Symphony
Fanfare for the Common Man (Copeland)
O Fortuna (Carl Orff), from the Carmina Burana
Sabre Dance (Khachaturian) - great for wild chases and chaotic battles
In the Halls of the Mountain King (Grieg), from the Peer Gynt Suite
Anything by Mahler

Period music
Source: Classic Online

I seem to run a lot of medieval-based games, which is great as I have a decent selection of early music. Don't ignore appropriate 20th century music when running appropriate games (20s and 30s music is great for Pulp games, for example, and Vietnam-era games open up everything from the Beatles and Stones to Black Sabbath and Bob Dylan to Jefferson Airplane and Fairport Convention).

Early music can sound very exotic to modern ears, particularly 12th to 14th century troubadour music, which has deep Moorish influences - great for Arabesque games.

Look for stuff by Istampitta, the Oni Wytars Ensemble and the Ensemble Unicorn. Some vocal pieces by the Mediaeval Baebes are aslo cool. The Naxos label, which started Classics Online, is one the leading publishers of medieval music.

Medieval dance pieces, including saltarellos and estampies, are great for tavern scenes. The piece usually known as Saltarello 4 (sometimes listed as Saltarello 2) is one of the most popular; there are many recorded versions of it ranging from OK to awesome.

Pathfinder Society Venture-Captain (UAE)
Active games: Pathfinder - Rise of the Runelords. Pathfinder Society games.

PostPosted: Wed Jan 22, 2014 5:44 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 8:30 pm
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Well, I've been slowly and steadily assembling a music collection for ahorror-themed game. I dont want to post much of it given it'll spoiler things slightly - but I can post what I've used so far.

Vision Music
My eclipse phase game had a unique mechanic of visions. Whenever a player was about to die or have a situation go horribly, he had a choice of opening a vision card. These visions described horrific events that the players would witness happening elsewhere in the world - to great and dire consequences. There were only 5 cards. Using one would have dire consequences despite the player surviving. After the 5th card, the game would end. The music that inspired and used during these visions are as follows:

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - Trailer Soundtrack

Freespace 2: Ending Soundtrack

One of the greatest sources of ambiences I've found for a horror game is STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl and SCP-087. Two of the tracks I've used to date are as below:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. OST: Dead Cities, Part 2

SCP - 087 B Extended:

Relaxing Music

For simple scenes near a shoreline, I prefer the Adaigo for strings in Homeworld 1's end credits.

I've got a few more, slowly building and sorting my collections right now and with a proper app to soundboard them all. The only problem I'm having is really finding some good quality speakers and a playing location where the music can be turned up high enough to an audible level without disturbing others.

PostPosted: Wed Jan 22, 2014 9:32 pm 
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Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:12 am
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Oh, I should add that I have a copy of the Trail of Cthulhu adventure Eternal Lies, which actually comes with its own soundtrack CD of specially commissioned music.

At some point soon I will have to get the Trail of Cthulhu rules so that I can run the adventure...

Pathfinder Society Venture-Captain (UAE)
Active games: Pathfinder - Rise of the Runelords. Pathfinder Society games.

PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 12:15 pm 
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Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 10:36 am
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I love music in roleplaying. I don’t understand any ref that doesn’t use it. I am not going to discuss specific tracks here but the process of how to use music in a session.


People tell me they use music in games. They then put on an Enya CD for the entire session. This is not using music in games; it suggests that their game is a monotonal background noise with all the excitement of lukewarm porridge. Instead think about what your average game session involves: chases, fights, cyber-labs, sneaking and elves? Now create windows folders called:


Now fill them with appropriate music tracks. When you are running a chase sequence open the folder, select the files and press play. You have now created an atmosphere. Easy.

Finding the music

-Every time you hear a movie tune, or entire soundtrack then email or text a reminder to yourself.
-Get Spotify. Check the album out. Assess it. If you like it then buy it.
-Having found one album you like follow the trail. Listen to similar genres, artists or composers.
-If you have not done so by now: type Hans Zimmer into Spotify.
-Go on to Obsidian Portal and look at the forum there on music.

Theme Tunes

As Andy identified one must be careful if using an easily identified theme tune. So, unless you want people thinking about the attack on the deathstar in your Second World War flying ace game avoid The Star Wars theme tune. If you are playing Star Wars, or James Bond, it is criminal not to use the tunes. Let me state that more boldly: anyone reffing Star Wars who does not use the music has failed as a ref.

Music to Avoid

The Lord of The Rings score is brilliant. It matches the action perfectly. Well, it does so in the movie anyway; probably not in your game. Some soundtracks are just too close to the film for any practical use. All of the LOTR soundtracks fall into this category – as do many computer game soundtracks (such as Deus Ex).


We have discussed generic folders. These are good. But you are not a Jedi yet. Here are some more points.
Use good music. Younger-in-service refs are quick to use what they know, such as computer soundtracks. Some are brilliant. Most are not, as they are tinny, shallow and saccharine. The good ones (e.g. Medal of Honor, Earned in Blood and Dear Esther) are all properly performed music and have resonance, depth and weight. The same can be said of film soundtracks. Get to know music. Spotify: operas, jazz (pre-1960s), swing, guitar and follow then trails until you know what you like. This should be fun. If not then don’t do it and put on that Enya CD.
Want to create an amazing atmosphere and differentiate races or places? Then pick a genre of music and play it whenever they appear. Thus I have a folder called Theocrats (the ‘baddies’ in my game). The music I use is either pre 1960s Lebanese or Iranian ‘jazz’ or Spanish Jesuit chants. For my other baddies (the Iuzians) I use French Bombarde music. Don’t know what these are? Spotify them.
Any campaign set in a period MUST use period music. 1970s vampire set in New York? Google it and find the bands that people were listening too. Collect the music and play at all times. Even if one of the PCs is a vampire who listens to harpsichord chamber music he needs to be set against what is contemporary.
Some tracks you should listen to until you know them to the second. I suggest that tension tracks need this the most e.g. Aliens or Where Eagles Dare. Learn to pace your game to that track. Get the players to make a roll as they sneak by the undead hordes. Queue sliding awful change in music. Clear up player poop.
You have folders for events. Now create folders for moods e.g. sad, happy, melancholy and trapped-in-a-well.
Some events in game just need specific tracks. Your players are hunting the bad guy through mutant wastelands and then corner him on a dusty high street? May I suggest that only, The Good The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack will do at this point.
Sometimes you need to subvert the form. I have used Star Wars in D&D to evoke scenes as a shorthand for either scene setting or emotions. Or if your players are used to the Enya CD for Elves, watch their eyes pop open in horror as something slithers through the woods and you haven’t even changed the music! Another use of this is to take a nice track and then set it to something horrible. See the use of Donovan’s “Atlantis” in Goodfellas for a brilliant example of this. So I have used a pretty boy-band song as background when the PCs were finding the skin of a child in a shed.

Sound effects

Should be used sparingly. They are a lot of work and are often too jarring to be effective. I would use them as background looped tracks (look for videos on you tube) to play sound effects like engine noise, the sea or static. And very very occasionally as underlining for critical points (such as a monstrous growl of the end of campaign bad guy).

Your own mixes

Are time consuming, but worthwhile. For the very best games I will use mixes. My largest was one where the players sat in darkness as they listened to a Russian Battle(space)ship searching for their small shuttle. It was a 6 minute 30 second soundtrack of sonar, torpedoes and the ship triangulating its position using planet noises. My players tell me that it is one of the most sphincter-clenching moments I have ever run. It took me about 12 hours to put together.

Oblique references and Inspiration

Sometimes your players will never hear (until the end of the campaign) the music that inspires you. I had an entire game sparked by The Decembrists’, “Crane Wife.” It had nothing to do with the folk tale, but took the theme of compassion for ‘others’ as its central tenet. Don’t play these until the end of the event. Firstly, as it may give away a plot and secondly, because the players will, largely, not have a clue as to why it inspired you, and you’ll look like a dork.
I often use out of genre music, and increasingly, videos to express emotions and to illustrate the moment. Thus for beach landings in D&D I used scenes from, Saving Private Ryan. For an NPC in D&D I used Iron Maiden’s Phantom of The Opera.

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