Saturday, May 03, 2008

Gaming Soundtracks

I was listening to the soundtrack to Last Night On Earth: The Zombie Game the other day. It's a beautiful soundtrack, and I love its sound.

It just doesn't sound like a B-movie horror soundtrack to me. It sounds like the kind of music I listen to while playing Engel or In Nomine.

As a role-player, I've been listening to soundtrack music for a very long time, with mixed results.

One GM used the score from Dune (I admit that I used Dune when I ran Blue Planet). It hung in the background without being too distracting.

One GM had a 200-disc CD changer, and it was all cued up. When we were heading into battle, he'd push three buttons, and the music would immediately let us know what we were in for.

One of my World of Darkness GM's had a soundtrack to describe the game to new players - he'd loan you the mix tape two weeks before you started play. It was supposed to give you an idea of what the world was like. He had one song for each Vampire Clan, one song for each of the other World of Darkness factions - and it gave you an idea of what to expect from them when you met them in-game.

There haven't been a lot of soundtracks released specifically for gaming - it's difficult to do, as every game feels different.

Midnight Syndicate has put out a batch of game-oriented CD's that work. They're listenable. But they don't describe my games very well. And that's the problem with most of the game soundtracks that have been released: They describe the artist's games, not your own.

The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets did an album for Call of Cthulhu d20 that I liked - but it wasn't very good as a game soundtrack, as it got in the way, and didn't fit non-Modern games.

Here are a couple of pointers to help you come up with a soundtrack for your game:

1) Don't choose music that will clash with the game. German Death Metal works just fine for a post-apocalyptic setting, but probably won't go well with your Golden Age of Piracy games. One GM I remember used the Conan soundtrack for his homebrewed Victorian Steampunk game.

2) Don't spend too much time nailing down "the perfect battle theme," and the like. Your music should describe the setting as a whole, not just situations PC's are likely to encounter.

3) Speaking of situations, you should assume that music will play at the wrong time. Will your "Zombies Attack" song destroy the feel of the King's Palace when the PC's are visiting? "Ride of the Valkyries" is not good music for the Netrunner's hacking attempt, but it works just fine when the Rigger is trying to clear a barricade.

4) Try to keep it to a single CD. The GM with the 200-disc changer sometimes spent more time looking for the right disc than he did running the game. It was frustrating more often than it worked. If you're using an iPod or similar, try setting up a playlist of ten to fifteen songs.

5) Avoid trying to change songs to give clues. If the PC's know a battle is coming, that's one thing, but you don't want to warn them that they're about to walk into an Orc ambush. Or that the Chancellor is secretly working for the Guild.

6) Your music should reflect how you think your world sounds to YOU. Not everyone will agree with you - I thought that Dune and Blue Planet shared a number of thematic elements, so I used the soundtrack as background music and totally confused my players.

7) Don't use music to cover up holes in your GMing or to create emotion that isn't already there. Music shouldn't be a crutch. If your players are climbing the Eternal Mountain of the Five Winds with the Horn of Truth to bring the Gods back, there should be enough depth there already. If you and your players have told the story well, you don't need the music to provide goosebumps.

No comments:

Post a Comment