Gnome Stew readers posted so many great suggestions for RPG background music in the comments on RPG Background Music: 41 Awesome Soundtracks that I decided to make a “reader tips” edition as a follow-up article. Combined, there are 99 recommendations between these two pieces.
I’ve already picked up one album based on your comments (the BSG Season One soundtrack, which is amazing — and also great music to prep to), and wishlisted many others. Many thanks to the fine folks who suggested these albums!
In the weeks since I posted that list, I’ve also discovered some new stuff I wanted to share. I’m a background music fiend, so this is something of an obsession for me — one I hope you can benefit from!
(These are all Amazon links, and Gnome Stew earns a small percentage when you buy something after following one of them; that revenue helps pay for our new server. I mentioned in the comments on the previous article that I’d be posting reader tips with links here, but if you shared an idea and you’re not comfortable with your soundtrack suggestion potentially earning money for the Stew, please let me know and I’ll be happy to remove your suggestion(s) immediately.)
Our Readers Want to Have Babies With These Soundtracks
Many thanks to steamcrow, Rafe, Sporkchop, JohnnyBravo, BryanB, Donogh, Iomythica, kossowankenobi, ouzelum, Volcarthe, Squeejee, rednightmare, Necrognomicon, and Ravenbow for recommending these albums!
There are some non-soundtracks mixed into this list — in general, if there’s a comma in the entry (like “Apocalyptica, 7th Symphony”), it’s a band; if not, it’s a soundtrack.
- Age of Conan — “Works best for an outdoorsy, fantasy feel for most of the tracks, but there are some good ones for combat.”
- Aliens — Both Alien and Aliens were suggested as having a good mix of ambient, action, and sinister tracks.
- Apocalyptica, 7th Symphony
- Apocalypto — “Pretty sinister, in fact my players start to get seriously worried if they hear anything from them!”
Battlestar Galactica: Season One (CD) — I picked this up and it’s amazing. Awesome for writing/prep music, too.
- Batman (1989) — “One of my old friends and DM’s swears by the Batman(1989) soundtrack.”
- Beats Antique, Collide — “Nice Fantasy marketplace music. Good for steampunk campaigns too. Traveling music.”
- Blade — “Pretty sinister, in fact my players start to get seriously worried if they hear anything from them!”
- The Civil War Soundtrack — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games)”
- Conan the Barbarian (CD) — “So epic it’s almost cliche… but it’s SO good.” Also: “Re. Conan the Barbarian — see if you can get the longer version of this if possible.”
The Dark Knight — “Intense, remember?”
- Dead Man — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games)”
- Doctor Who Series 5 — “Murray has amazing diversity. From high adventure, to mystical, to action, to soft moody tracks.”
- Elizabeth — “very nice ambient pieces, but especially for social/politics sequences”
- Epica, Design Your Universe
- Event Horizon
Fable 2 — “Danny Elfman. ’nuff said.”
- Final Fantasy
- The Ghost and the Darkness
- Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai — “with some great short read passages from Hagakure”
- The Good, The Bad & The Ugly — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games): Various Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores”
King Arthur — “I find obscure music far more useful. Never saw King Arthur? Perfect. Never played Lord of the Rings Online? Excellent. Every time someone recognizes a song I take it out of the rotation and find something else.”
- La Reine Margot — “Some outstanding choral pieces iwth an unusual style”
- Leaving Richmond, The Secret Traditions Of Washington Ave. EP
- Lord of the Rings Online — “I find obscure music far more useful. Never saw King Arthur? Perfect. Never played Lord of the Rings Online? Excellent. Every time someone recognizes a song I take it out of the rotation and find something else.”
- Lustmord, Rising — “dark ambient stuff. Great for spooky atmosphere and horror.”
- The Matrix
Moon — “Good for any intense sci-fi adventure… but also still respectable for a spooky c’thulu or fantasy adventure. Subtle, intense, unique.”
- The Mummy
- Ravenous — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games)”
- Robin Hood (BBC) (CD)– “A lot of excellent High adventure or piratesque tracks. There are also some fpgreat tracks for romantic fantasy or plots.”
- Shadow of the Colossus (CD) — “The best soundtrack I’ve found for my sessions is the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack”
Sherlock Holmes — “Solid. Nice range.”
- The Spiderwick Chronicles — “Classical, with a range from dark to lighthearted.”
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (CD)
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (CD)
- 10,000 BC — “Good for orcs and war.”
- The Thin Red Line — “not your usual Hans Zimmer, with some nice ethnic touches from the south-west Pacific”
300 — “Pretty powerful stuff, if you don’t mind the guitars.”
- To Kill a King — “very nice ambient pieces, but especially for social/politics sequences”
- Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen — “Orc music, with chanting and big drums. Intense, and far better than the movie, I’d gamble.”
- Two Steps From Hell, Invincible
A Few New Discoveries
I keep a running wishlist of RPG background music, and this is what’s on it right now. I haven’t picked any of these soundtracks up yet, but they’re all on my radar and sound excellent based on samples and reviews:
Battle: Los Angeles — I haven’t seen the movie or picked up this soundtrack yet, but based on the samples it’s packed with solid action music. I find that many soundtracks are light on good action music, so I’m always on the lookout for more.
- Call Of Duty: Black Ops — With this game’s budget, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack is good. As one Amazon reviewer pointed out, it’s not traditional action music so much as it is tense, buildup-y action music — a neat category to add to one’s library. Also notable: it’s long, at 1:36 — twice as long as some soundtracks!
- Crysis 2 — I’ve never played the game, but this looks like a steal at $4.
- Dead Space 2 — I like sci-fi/horror soundtracks in particular because they offer a different kind of action music — tense, foreboding action music. From the samples, this fits the bill nicely.
- Dragon Age 2 — The first one (which I have) was solid fantasy music, and the second one seems to be more of the same. Also notable: it’s cheap!
Epic Score, Epic Action & Adventure Vol. 1 — I could do a whole article just on their stuff — it’s amazing. They basically write music for use in movie scores, often including both vocal (mainly choral) and vocal-free versions of their tracks. As the band’s name suggests, it’s mostly big, epic, Hollywood awesomeness that will wind up in your Action playlist (if you use my palylist system). Here are several of their albums in one place.
- Homefront — Action, action, action, and of the modern, guitar-driven kind, which I quite like. It reminds me of the Battlefield 2 soundtrack, a staple of my Action playlist.
- Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands — Another big-game soundtrack for under $5, this one has a Middle Eastern flair and doesn’t seem tied to any particular genre.
Splinter Cell Conviction — Also under $5, this is good, tense spy music. I don’t own the soundtrack (yet), but I’ve played the game.
- Vendetta – Position Music Orchestral Series Vol. 6 — Sounds a lot like Epic Score, but I haven’t researched them. Compelling and excellent, based on the samples.
- Wolf Creek — This was a grim and disturbing flick, and the soundtrack is eerie, tense, and evocative.
Reader Tips that Aren’t Links
These excellent reader comments didn’t break out into MP3 links, but are well worth sharing:
“I typically crawl the classics and RPG soundtracks (Jeremy Soule’s stuff is brilliant and typically obscure enough) and then rename them to fit a given mood (tension, surprise, pastoral, traveling, combat). When the mood strikes, stick to the same song — building your own soundtrack (especially useful for suspense). Let it run out and then let it go (or fade out when appropriate). Don’t fiddle with the song, tell the story. Don’t worry about timing the music to your tale, it will never fit properly.” (kossowankenobi)
“Contemporary, lyrical music can do things instrumentals can’t. My brother’s managed to do some REALLY great foreshadowing with songs like “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, and I used “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead for a character who later discovered he was a spy invented by a smithing god.” (ouzelum)
(From Necrognomicon) “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games):
- Various Pray for Rain songs, including ‘The Killers’ from Straight to Hell and the Roadside Prophets Soundtrack
- Various airs and marches (eg ‘Garryowen’) performed by the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus
- The ‘official’ Deadlands soundtrack CDs aren’t too bad either…
“A little late to the party, but I use Pandora. I made a “Howard Shore” station and just let it do its thing.” (Ravenbow)
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for checking out this article, and I hope you discovered some killer music!
If you have more RPG background music suggestions, share away in the comments — there’s a huge catalog of great BGM out there, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.