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Themed and Situational Playlists for Background Music

I spent a couple hours last night importing album art and fiddling with my iTunes playlists, so I’ve got music on the brain.

If you use mp3s for background music during your games, playlists offer variety with a consistent theme. With shuffle turned on, you get maximum variety; with shuffle off, you can match tracks to a rough sequence of events, like exploration or combat.

You could kick off with your campaign’s opening theme song [1], of course, and then cue up appropriate situational playlists as needed:

…and so forth. Do you do this in your games? What tricks do you use to make the most of your playlists?

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Themed and Situational Playlists for Background Music"

#1 Comment By Telas On December 16, 2006 @ 2:29 pm

I use a home theater PC and SnapStream’s BeyondMedia on shuffle, with the Firefly remote to jump tracks that aren’t appropriate. It’s an RF remote, so line of sight isn’t important. It works very well, and I don’t even need a monitor, or a window open.

Ideally, I’ll eventually have music broken down in to the following playlists: combat, peaceful exploration/traveling, suspenseful exploration/mystery, and tavern/camp. This has been backburnered for a while, so… :/

I’ve used sound effects before, but getting the volume right can be a pain. It’s a great mood setter when a slowly creaking door surprises your players, but it truly breaks the mood when a “Windows Error” alert does the same.

#2 Comment By Telas On December 16, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

Oh, and [2] Not playlisted, but streaming fantasy soundtrack music, very apropos for RPGs.

#3 Comment By John Arcadian On December 16, 2006 @ 3:14 pm

I’ve got a bunch of folders on my computer with themes for music. I enque a folder in winamp, hit shuffle and let it go, or I grab a certain song and put it on repeat, or 3 or 4 of the same type of song. Video game music works really great for this, and I rip every game soundtrack, or other appropriate music.

Then I’ve got a few songs that are themed to villians, npcs or other important things. One of my players has a phobia about the song “Whatever Lola Wants” thanks to the villianess it was attached to.

#4 Comment By Kestral On December 17, 2006 @ 2:16 am

I’ve always had music in the background when I played in campaigns, and almost always, it was ‘themed’. It wasn’t done the fancy way, as we just skipped tracks on the CDs we used, but it worked well enough. Occasionally, someone would get around to ripping a CD to minimize the CD jumping, but that was it, really.

It certainly worked well to set the mood, and another good thing about background music, once you get the general decibel level right, is that it keeps silences from being silent. Once you get a long silence, either from thinking about plans, or a simple slowdown from dice issues, sometimes it’s hard to pick up steam again. That doesn’t happen as often when music is in the background, I think.

Telas’s link is certainly good, but here’s a little tip: in some media players, you can get systems which automatically poll Shoutcast’s top 1000 list. That contains music from all sorts of genres, which means I find myself rarely getting tired of the music I find there, unless my ears are getting tired. Radio Rivendell is on that list. Another one I like is at [3] which has, if I recall correctly, multiple feeds, one of which is solely traditional music, (great for fantasy) and another is mostly modern rock with a Celtic twist. (good for modern fantasy) You’re not likely to find a lot of instrumentals here, but for pub music, it’s perfect, especially if you have a system which allows you to run multiple tracks at the same time, thereby layering the instrumental and the vocals.

#5 Comment By ScottM On December 18, 2006 @ 9:33 am

While we’ve had random music on in the background, that’s less than ideal, since it just increases the volume people speak at… or conversation gets lost.

A GM for a short series Vampire game selected a soundtrack matching each character’s vices, and would play it when transitioning to a new character. It worked very well the first several times.

#6 Comment By Dr Rotwang! On December 18, 2006 @ 9:15 pm

I have compiled a 2-volume soundtrack for the cyberpunk game I never got around to running, and I swear I could totally do a third one. It’s full of DEVO, The Faint, Ladytron, Duran Duran, The Ramones, Propaganda, Wang Chung…uh…you, umn, you get the picture.

I’m not certain that it’d be background music; it’d be a takeaway gift for the players, something for them to listen to and get a groove for in between sessions. I *do* like background music for my games, but not all of my players feel the same way.

#7 Comment By Martin On December 19, 2006 @ 8:38 am

Good suggestions — thank you!

I’ve never looked at BG music from the standpoint of reducing silent time. The next time I run a game, I’ll have to see if that’s true for my group.

GilaMonster: For some reason, She Wants Revenge and the Fight Club soundtrack both come to mind for Shadow Hunters. Could just be me, though. 😉

#8 Comment By Martin On January 30, 2007 @ 6:41 pm

Welcome to TT, warlock — and good link! I just recently discovered Pandora myself, and I hadn’t thought about using it for gaming.

Comments should have been closed on this one a little while back, so I’m going to do that now (don’t take it personally :)).