View Full Version : Using Music to Enhance D&D

2008-07-02, 04:41 PM
So I would just like to know how people use music to their advantage when running games, and what kinds of music they perfer to use. Does it work, does it not work, discuss. So far Ive just been playing some varied rock and metal bands (as well as a few others) while we play, just for fun. One trick Ive been using is to put 4 minutes of nothing after a few tracks. So music for about 15 minutes, then a break from it. Maybe its just me, but I have trouble listening to music for so long without any breaks. After awhile I just tune it out, or get tired of it.

But, currently I am looking for some scary stuff to get the mood going. Well, actually my friend who runs a game I playin asked for some for our next session. All he really specified was that he would like it to be lyric-free. Anyone know any good tracks for this? I dont know if its going to be undead or what, so maybe just some generic get-your-heart-racing kind of stuff. The main problem Ive been having was finding a way to get to these tracks then download them. It would be so much easier if the game was going to happen at my house, so I could just get some youtube vids containing scary music going, but Im going to have to get this stuff on a CD.

Anyway, discuss.

2008-07-02, 05:18 PM
I've found I have two problems with music (or atleast, with certain music sources):

Rock, rap, and other popular modern music: It doesn't fit the setting (well, fantasy settings atleast). There aren't any knights going around with a guitar, nor are there any troubadours laying down a phat beat. There's also the problem of the players tuning out the game cause they really like the song, or, in some cases, singing along or tapping out the beat. Furthermore, there's really varied tastes as far as modern music goes.

Video Game, Classical, or Movie Music: It has the advantage of fitting the setting or creating a dramatic feel. However, there's the downside the players have probably heard it before (less of a problem with classical) and this can pull them right out of the game. If they hear Oblivion's battle music, they might start talking about that one character of their's, if they hear the Lord of the Rings theme, they might talk about how that one orc got squished by a rock. And you can't really be sure what the players have heard and what they haven't; people see and play lots of movie and video games. A lot of the people I play with have had musical instruction of some sort or another, and are thus familiar with some classical.

That said, I think music could help a game. If I could find something medieval-eqsue (besides Greensleaves) to play during DnD, I would.

As for the OP's request for scary music, I can't think of anything. You might look into a soundtrack from a horror movie, perhaps.

2008-07-02, 05:26 PM
I've only recently started having a little light music on way in the background at our sessions.

Previously I couldn't have it at all, because most of the time I found anything with lyrics, or that was very ecclectic, or mood inspiring, or popular to be way too much of a distraction. No modern popular genre really fit the mood of any of our games either.

It's really just a personal thing for me... I love music way too much. There's not a single type of music I don't appreciate and enjoy on some level. This is a problem because as DM I'd find myself often getting very distracted by music. It never just goes into the background for me like I hear other people describe happening.

Lately I've been playing music that I'm incredibly familiar with (so I don't have to devote as much mental energy to listening to it), but that has a vague emotional motif so that it can fit any mood. I find Enya's Amarantine and the Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack fit the bill perfectly. The latter because it's really just one common theme over and over again.

For a horror campaign like you mentioned I would recommend (and I know most of you will laugh at this) Bush - Deconstructed. It's slightly industrial, but not enough to be overbearing and has a very macabre feel.

There was a thread earlier about characters based on songs. Almost every character I've ever created has been made while listening to a particular song.

2008-07-02, 05:32 PM
Video Game, Classical, or Movie Music: It has the advantage of fitting the setting or creating a dramatic feel. However, there's the downside the players have probably heard it before (less of a problem with classical) and this can pull them right out of the game.

This too... play the Braveheart soundtrack and watch how many of your players start talking in Scottish accents or acting like Wallace or Stephen.

2008-07-02, 05:38 PM
I dont know, in truth Ive been using popular music to get my players to sit down and pay attention. They are so distracted with other things as it is (cell phones + video games, whatever you can think of). I've tried very hard to get them to just sit down and enjoy the game, but it seems that I have recently become the enemy or something. They are all under the impression that the DM is not your friend, and seem to get all flustered when I ask them nicely to just play the game. Maybe I'm just not providing enough entertainment to hold their attention. I really don't know, but this is for another thread.

2008-07-02, 05:40 PM
Gregorian chants and more obscure old pieces (generally of Christian Church origin) tend to fit the feeling you want to convey pretty well.

2008-07-02, 06:07 PM
This too... play the Braveheart soundtrack and watch how many of your players start talking in Scottish accents or acting like Wallace or Stephen.

Your example was better than the ones I posted.

Player: "It's MY island!"

DM: "You aren't on an island."

Player: "It's MY continent!"


DM: "The Duke asks your price for freeing his daughter."

Player: "FREEDOOOOM!!!!"

Perhaps the solution is to use music from an obscure, but quality, source? For example, I really like the Total War and Europa Universalis games, which none of my players have played, (aside from one, who played games from both series lightly), and both games have good music that would fit a DnD game. On the other hand, I would recognize the tracks, and they might pull ME out of the game.

2008-07-02, 06:37 PM
Our best experience with music and D&D was when we had two DMs. With one DM, it's a lot harder to do all the DMing and make sure the music is on right as well. But then, we didn't just run a playlist, characters had theme songs, so when someone was doing something cool, their song would be playing. There were some other "mood" staples as well.

We didn't have much trouble with using recognizable music, though we only used it a few times.

2008-07-02, 06:42 PM
I find that music, while not advancing players roleplaying, advances the game in a different way.

Most games, I'll put music on and turn it down, so its background music. Music in general relives tension (unless its rap... or deathmetal...or country)

There is no "turn it up" there is no singing to the song... because players are focusing on the game...but in every game tension may run high... players might argue and dm might kill off a character...or two... or several... By accident I'm sure.
Having music on is risky, but it sets a mood in the air. a very relaxed "this is a game, so enjoy it" mood. Its not for everyone. but its for some.

I would however (if you're trying to enhance roleplaying and dramatics) suggest this.
DO NOT USE ANY PIECE FROM FINAL FANTASY! The pieces are good, but too recognizable...and hundreds of references pop up and then you have a debate on whether Final fantasy 7 was the best before you can say "Rocks Fall, everyone dies."

2008-07-02, 07:18 PM
DO NOT USE ANY PIECE FROM FINAL FANTASY! The pieces are good, but too recognizable...and hundreds of references pop up and then you have a debate on whether Final fantasy 7 was the best before you can say "Rocks Fall, everyone dies."

Hehe... exactly. Everyone knows FFIV was the best one.

<whistle> <splat>


Square did release the soundtracks to the Kingdom Hearts games. These are great. Make a list of the track numbers and write down a mood keyword that that track inspires. Flip to the track and hit repeat for whatever mood you want. It's repetitive enough that repeat is okay, but not terribly annoying... as long as you remember to switch it for each mood.

2008-07-02, 07:20 PM
I used the KOTOR soundtrack for a Saga campaign I had in the spring and it turned out pretty well.

A band that has some pretty awesome combat music is Lightning Bolt. I guess you'd call them an experimental electric band (not techno, just not acoustic). While they music is exactly medieval appropriate, the music just sounds deadly and gives combat a good sense of chaos and terror. Two more good things they have going for them is that almost no one in your group that isn't a music buff will know about them and that none of there songs have lyrics, which tend to make the music distracting for gaming.

2008-07-02, 09:30 PM
Some of my personal preferences, that I've used at games:

*Classical compilations (Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Chopin etc.)

*Movie soundtracks (Aliens, Terminator, Predator etc.)

*Game soundtracks (AoE II, ToEE, Heretic etc.)

*Gregorian chanting

*Danzig - Black Aria

...I generally find most music with lyrics a little distracting, as well as music that is "too modern". YMMV.

Deth Muncher
2008-07-02, 10:03 PM
I generally try to use music in the campaign in as much as possible. At first, it was generally that the party bard would ask me for a song, then say he was singing that. Now that he's defected to the evil team, I just play mood music. The B.S.O. Age Of Empires tracks are good, generally. Especially Death. It fits so many situations.

As well, I've got the FFVII soundtrack, so I generally try to sneak in the battle music once per game. Generally, it results in my DM saying "Ok, your character's dead."

As well, as a silly thing to do, my DM has taken to playing one of the newer Pokemon games. So I managed to find the battle music...heh. The first time I played that, he granted my character the ability to win at irony.

2008-07-02, 10:13 PM
OCremix is awesome. Music without lyrics, and generally game music, appropriate to fit most gaming moods. I use bits off their DOOM album for creepy & fighting scenes, and bits off of their Chrono Symphonic album for epic drama scenes.

The nice thing about it is that it's been . . . remixed. So even if it's a familiar theme (and often it's not--there are a *lot* of games on OCremix), it's not terribly distracting.

Da King
2008-07-02, 10:23 PM
I like to use the FF6 and Chrono Trigger soundtracks mostly, as well as FF7, Lufia (1 and 2), and Grandia Xtreme occasionally.

2008-07-03, 06:34 AM
I've found that the freely available music from The Celestial Aeon Project seem to work perfectly for D&D:

It's the perfect kind of music for fantasy roleplaying, and with the additional advantage that few people know it - and even if they already know it, it at least doesn't have any popculture associations.

The tracks are quite diverse; there are calm pieces which works well as mood music, more upbeat ones good for epic adventuring music, and a few that are decidedly battle music.

As to the way to use music: For our sessions we've just been splitting the tracks up in two playlists; combat and out-of-combat, but if a GM wanted to put more effort into it, it might work well with specifically selected tracks for specific places, a particular theme for the archvillain, etc etc... I might do more music-managing like that if I were to GM again someday, of course still with a background playlist with some generally fitting tracks running whenever nothing particular was happening.

2008-07-03, 06:58 AM
I prefer playing those "Background Noise" tapes that have things like "Sounds recorded from a beach" or "Sounds of a field at night". The kind that tend to come with Aromatherapy. Envioronmental sounds ALWAYS work, and sometimes can be a great help. For example, play a field of crickets sound, then turn it down suddenly instead of asking for listen checks. Any druid or ranger worth his salt should become immediately suspicious upon nature shutting up.

My players once went to a Seyance in game- I turned the lights down low and actually put on some incense in the next room over, (With a window open so it wouldn't be too cloying.) and some new-age relaxation music that used chimes and stuff. (Forgot the exact piece of music since it was on cassette tape and I lost it long ago,) but it worked like a charm. I had my players eating out of my hands that session as they pumped the temple guru for advice.

The trick with setting a good mood is to keep it light. Don't shove the soundtrack in players faces- keep it on low so it doesn't get in the way of talking or action.

Also, apparently Dungeons and Dragons released an official "Roleplaying Soundtrack" at one point. Dunno if it's any good or not, but there's always that.

2008-07-03, 07:08 AM
I occasionally cue up music from Suikoden 1 and Castlevania Symphony of the Night for particularly interesting moments in my D&D games. They both have that "Fantasy" feel to many of their tracks, especially Suikoden.

I try to keep the volume low and not use music constantly though, just so the players don't get too distracted. Also, nothing with lyrics. Too many instances of me explaining something and the players substitute lyrics for my words. :smallbiggrin:

Also, apparently Dungeons and Dragons released an official "Roleplaying Soundtrack" at one point. Dunno if it's any good or not, but there's always that.

I remember the old D&D 2nd edition campaign setting Red Steel came with a "soundtrack" CD. It was... okay. nothing to write home about, but it had a couple good tracks for background music through a dungeon.

2008-07-03, 07:19 AM
Corlindale, that link is something awesome. I' awarding you a box of E-cookies.

2008-07-03, 08:50 AM
Also, apparently Dungeons and Dragons released an official "Roleplaying Soundtrack" at one point. Dunno if it's any good or not, but there's always that.

The 3e one is by Midnight Syndicate. It's not horrible, except the "fight" music has sword clashes and stuff mixed into it, which distracts from the music.

And while I enjoy using music in D&D (especially now in 4e - DM is so much less time-consuming there I have time to really do some interesting sound-effect work), it's utterly awesome when you use it in Call of Cthulhu. I downloaded a Foley Track (lots of random sound effects) and have several tracks going at the same time.

For example, the investigators get to the mysterious town in which their friend has disappeared. They get off the train and walk into the station. I've got a Wind and Rain track going, a Crowd noise track going, a Train Idling noise track going, and all with the BioShock opening theme going in the background.

Combine that with good lighting, and the results can be epic awesome.

2008-07-03, 09:52 AM
Midnight Syndicate has a ton of albums. They'll be pretty good for horror/scary themed stuff, and they're relatively cheap. Think a lot of it was designed for Ravenloft...

2008-07-03, 01:14 PM
I prefer video games with the Sound Test feature if only because they usually have a very smooth infinite loop going. Super Smash Bros. Brawl in particular is very nice once you get all the songs, something for every mood and multiple possible battle themes and character themes.

2008-07-03, 01:54 PM
Corlindale, that link is something awesome. I' awarding you a box of E-cookies.

Why, thank you:smallsmile:

His linked Project Divinity might also be of some interest. It's ambient soundscapes rather than actual music, but for some situations they might be fitting. Many of them makes me think of large, empty halls in long-forgotten temples, they might be good for setting the mood for such locations.

2008-07-03, 02:09 PM
I personally don't use music with my D&D games, although I recommend you use music from the playstation games Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. I believe it's actually the same composer. You can find horror-esque tracks with the Vagrant Story ST, FFT is more for epic, high-fantasy battles.

You can find tracks on YouTube, actually. Some of FFT ones have even been done on Mario Paint programs, which is as hilarious as it is epic.

2008-07-03, 02:24 PM
The Celestial Aeon stuff looks awesome. Kevin MacLeod also does royalty-free music, free for download. All sorts of styles, so you may be able to find a few tracks there.


2008-07-03, 04:37 PM
I don't generally use music in my own D&D games, because I find it distracts everyone from what's going on (although I gotta admit, I'd LOVE to try SwordGuy's CoC game, that sounds pretty sweet).

I've mentioned this before in other threads, but it's still the best I can find. One of the few times I have used music, to great effect, I used the soundtrack to the Mel Gibson Hamlet movie. Not that many people saw it, and even fewer bought the soundtrack, so it's not likely that anybody'll recognize it. It also fit the bill, because it doesn't have a lot of "highs", like huge minor chords, or orchestra "stings" or stuff like that, which always tend to come along at the wrong time. It's basically really low-key, and just plain eerie. It's got all sorts of weird instruments and stuff, and it just kinda unnerves you. It's almost subconscious.

Worked perfectly in a Ravenloft campaign I did once. It got everybody on edge, and just amplified all the creepy stuff I threw at the party. The subtle, creepy music set 'em up, and I knocked 'em down. Good times...

2008-07-03, 04:52 PM
I like using "classical" (I hate that term) music for background music (the first movement of Shostakovitch's 7th symphony is one of my favorites because it's long [over 25 minutes] and fairly repetitive) and more modern music when I'm trying to ease the tension. I've seen someone playing a bard break out with this (http://youtube.com/watch?v=Yu_moia-oVI) at one point. Seriously.

2008-07-03, 05:10 PM
Anything from Nox Arcana would probably make excellent background music. It's great music to listen to, no lyrics, and people won't recognize it. Each album has a theme, be it sword and sorcery, haunted mansions, or Poe, so you get a variety of moods going.

Plus, when Christmas comes around, you can pull out the gothiest christmas album ever.

2008-07-04, 01:35 PM
Where to start?

I find that "Hajimaru", from Kitaro's Kojiki, is good for a nice sinister feel. (The rest of the CD is good, but not for that sort of mood--and the 2-CD set Silk Road makes a very nice ambient background source.)

For what you're looking for, Epica's album The Score may be about the right idea. With a couple of exceptions, it's all instrumental, and the tension runs high.

I second (or third, or however many we're up to) the Celestial Aeon project on general principle.

Holst's The Planets is also a good choice, even if some of the tracks run a little quiet. There's a 2-CD set that includes all the original pieces and a few later additions. And then there's Dvorak's Symphony for the New World.

2008-07-04, 07:02 PM
I've used music from a couple of games. I borrowed the Mycon Theme from Star Control II for a Colosseum run by demons, and later used the Hyperspace theme during a trip to the Astral Plane. Also in my current campaign, I've matched up some of the recurring villains with tracks from Soul Calibur, and played them as background music during climactic fights. It can work, but it's important to find the right music. Some tips:

1. Avoid lyrics. They distract players, and they distract you.
2. Avoid music with sudden volume changes or tempo switches. Murphy's Law dictates that right in the middle of your villain's dramatic taunt is when the big drum solo hits, causing you to lose your train of thought.
3. As said, avoid something the players will be recognize, unless the campaign is meant to be silly.

2008-07-05, 06:16 PM
I've only used two different sources for my music, Nightwish and the Halo 3 soundtrack, both work awesomely.

Decoy Lockbox
2008-07-06, 02:58 PM
I firmly believe that power metal, as cheesy as it might be, is the soundtrack to D&D. For example:


I mean come on, the first song is actually titled "Triumph for my magic steel"