Gaming My Way

21 Aug

Setting the Stage of a Game With Music

I want to once again talk about music, but this time set in tabletop games rather than video games. For a video game, it’s an integral part of the experience. For tabletop games, it’s strictly optional, but it can help to set the mood very nicely.

I’ve found that music tends to be most effective when used sparingly and at important dramatic moments. There’s no need to have a theme for everything and music for every battle, though I know some people actually enjoy that. For me, I think it’s much more effective to save an epic score for a large, important battle, and use it there. Perhaps a jovial theme for the main stronghold or hideout. Maybe one or two other songs used sparingly.

Having a sound effect or song for every room tends to be too much for me. This is mostly because some sound effects and music can be grating, as can the pause from room to room or scene to scene as the GM looks for the sound file or cd he needs. Balance is key. If the game is slowing down, or the sounds are unnecessary, then perhaps it’s time to trim them down a bit. This is still a roleplaying game after all, and player imaginations can fill in what’s missing. The point is to add to the game, not slow it to a grinding halt, and some players prefer to use their imaginations most of the time anyway.

The first campaign I experimented with music in, I used Queen of the Dark Horizons by Rhapsody for a giant, possibly world ending battle between five dragons and the world’s most powerful wizards. For those who don’t know, the song is very heavy, and has some orchestral qualities to it as well, along with lyrics that certainly imply evil is on the rise and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I was pleased with the outcome, and my players told me it was one of the most intense battles they’d been involved in, which was my goal. Unfortunately, that campaign later began to unravel, though it still finished. That battle was the capstone of the game for me though.

For another campaign, I tried having theme songs for all the players and most of the important npcs. It didn’t really work as well as I’d hoped it would. It was too much to manage, and the music got in the way of the game sometimes. The same was true when I tried to have music for almost every battle, and even when I had it for every boss battle. I’ve decided from now on, it might be best to save it for the world changing battles that tend to occur once or twice a campaign. Perhaps I can work one in for the death of an important character or PC if it’s appropriate. Of course, this is a highly personal choice, and one that different roleplaying groups will have different preferences about.

But if you haven’t tried using music in your games and your players are game, give it a shot sometime. It might surprise you how well a well placed song can set the mood.

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