Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Soundtrack to Your Campaigns

Like many people who played D&D in the 1980s, I was a died-in-the wool metalhead. In fact, most of my gaming friends were. As a result, when we played, we often had music going in the background. Usually, we listened to speed/thrash metal like Metallica or Megadeth. However, we were also big fans of some of the more iconic metal bands of the 80s (Dio, Ozzy, etc.). Recently, I heard the song Flash of the Blade by Iron Maiden. Wow, did that song bring back memories. Surprisingly, not of junior high or high school, but of gaming. I can recall, in vivid detail, certain things that happened in our campaigns well over 20 years ago…memories sparked by little more than a guitar riff.

As the years rolled on, I occasionally tried to incorporate more “atmosphere appropriate” music into my campaigns. I recall a failed attempt to use a cassette of renaissance music I’d purchased in a used tape bin. I tried some of the music from TSRs own LPs First Quest (anyone remember those?). I tried some stuff from bands like Tangerine Dream which produced evocative synth music. Ultimately, none of it really worked. The only thing that ever felt really appropriate were film soundtracks but those had the added drawback of reminding us of the movies from which they were taken (still, I’ll always relish charging into battle to Anvil of Crom or Carmina Burana).

In thinking about this stuff lately, I can’t help but wonder what folks are using these days, especially with the advances in technology and the ready availability not only of music via MP3s but also sound effects. What sorts of music/audio do you use in your games to enhance the ambiance?


  1. I suppose I'm an odd duck, as the music that makes me think of gaming is celtic (I usually listened to recorded episodes of Thistle & Shamrock to get me in the mood when I was making my maps) or '80s pop, which we listened to on the way to the game. So nothing gets me in the mood like Heart, Madonna, Mr. Mister, The Police, or Phil Collins.

    We rarely ever played music at the game. These days I usually listen to soundtracks, but as I'm playing via live text chat, I have no idea what my players are listening to. Apparently, it's things like Depeche Mode and Queens of the Stone Age.

  2. Trollsmyth,

    Nah, you’re not an oddball (anymore than the rest of us, anyway). We all have those things which “take us back.” Even though I was a headbanger, there is some 80s pop that takes me back to gaming, also. Not necessarily because I intentionally listened to it regularly at the time but because it was popular enough to be heard on the radio/MTV often enough to have made an indelible impression. Cyndi Lauper’s “Change of Heart” is an excellent example of that for me.

    As to my current gaming music, I guess I’m still looking for that perfect set of resources but film soundtracks are working out well in the meantime.