Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mood Music for Games: Three Lists and Personal Themes

I am out of town on a business trip this week, and so have decided to post something a little easy from my hotel room.

Jay Cartwright of Lemming Malloy
In my game world, the kiitar is a traditional gnomish instrument

This is not the first time I have posted about music at the gaming table. In fact, a search for "music" on this blog turns up about half a dozen posts. Over the years, I have played around with several methods for incorporating music into my game, and have also played in other game groups that used music to set the mood. When I first started running my game, my music use, like much of my DM technique was very much in flux. I sampled, I dabbled, I flitted from system to system, never quite satisfied. During the past year, however, the oscillations between musical systems began to settle into something which I actually feel pretty good calling "useful" and "effective".

See, if done improperly, music has the potential to detract from a game as much as proper use can add to it. In order to be effective, a gaming music system should be simple, yet evocative and should not take over the session, either by forcing the DM to constantly fiddle with it, or by overwhelming the play audibly, or emotionally.

The system I came up with... or heard somewhere and settled on... involves three basic playlists:

  • Atmosphere: Basic, non intrusive background music for all your town 'splorin, travel scenin' tavern drinkin' needs.
  • Spooky: Music to build a sense of tension while exploring dank dungeons or other evil locales.
  • Battle: High energy music to underscore the epicness of the players' actions in combat.

 It doesn't really matter what you use to build these lists. I use YouTube, because I have a program on my Surface that will play them commercial free. I also have a backup set of lists on Spotify in the event that YouTube is being obnoxious, or if I need a dose of something epic at work.

Within the battle list, I also have personal themes for each of the player characters. Just for fun, I provide a minor circumstantial bonus to a player's rolls, if their turn comes up while their song is playing. Clearly, Indiana Jones is more effective when HIS theme is going, so why shouldn't it work for everyone!? The game as a whole also has a theme, which I use to begin each session. When my players hear the music start, they know to wrap up their conversations, because we are about to get rolling.

This system has worked quite well for me since I finally settled on it, and other than possibly porting it off of YouTube, I don't see it changing a whole lot. If you are interested in checking out some of the music I use, click on the linked playlists above, and/or check out my lists on Spotify. I even add to them on occasion, so the epic doesn't get old.


  1. I gotta admit, I listen to your D&D Battle playlist on Spotify while I'm at work probably 80% of the time. It's very motivating! :D

  2. Pretty cool list Geoff. I do the same thing on YouTube myself.

  3. I also suggest Grooveshark for building playlists.


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