CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Music to My Ears

The Sounds of Running and Creating Games

It is said that music makes the world go round. Actually, I’m sure people say a lot of different things make the world go round, but I’m gonna go with music here. We find music all over in our everyday lives, from the stuff we choose to listen to, to the stuff pumped through the speakers at your local bookstore or coffee shop. We find music in other forms of entertainment like movies and in the advertisements that sell us things. Music evokes feelings and the proper use of music can enhance or lives in some degree. But how do we use music in gaming?

There are three aspects of using music in your gaming experience I’m going to talk about. The first is writing your game, the second is as a soundtrack to your game, the third is in-game songs and music.

I’ve been creating things since I was a wee youngster. Not just games, but I was always writing. Mostly short stories but if I wasn’t reading books I was working on writing, although never finishing, them. One way I would keep myself inspired would be to listen to music as I wrote. Having a soundtrack to the section of the book I was writing would help me keep the emotions I was looking to evoke in the piece I was writing at the time.

In high school we had a poetry class and one of the tasks was to listen to a piece of music and write poetry inspired by the sounds. Admittedly I hate poetry class – not my preferred style of writing – but I did enjoy the experiment. There are other writers who use music to write their books and Rachel Cain the writer of the Weather Warden Series even adds a playlist in the back of each book.

So how does this apply to roleplaying? The same as it applies to writing. Often as I try and figure out what emotions I want to evoke in a certain scene of the game I will listen to music that inspires it. It helps come up with dialogue for NPC, descriptive text for the scene’s setting, and even the image of how I expect the monsters in an encounter to fight. Nothing beats listening to Raining Blood by Slayer when I’m creating a battle against a group of enraged trolls.

So next time you’re setting down to pen some portion of your game, throw in a CD or queue up some music on YouTube.

So we’ve gotten our game written whether, we’ve done it ourselves or we’re running a prewritten module. Now we want to really bring the game to life. One of the things we can do is add some sounds to our game, but what sounds to add?

Some people like actual music. Personally I find music with lyrics to be a bit distracting when actually running a game. Although I have been known to play a choir piece in a church, I try and limit my use of music with lyrics. This leaves me with a lot of classical and electronic music as background music for my games.

Some people also enjoy video game music for gaming. Much as you’re trying to do in your game, the composers of video game music are trying to evoke emotional responses for different scenes of the game. I’ve  been known to use some of the music from games like Silent Hill when running horror scenarios and the atmospheric and action-y music with the Eastern vibe in Assassin’s Creed works well for Arabian Nights style games.

Beyond soundtracks there are also just sounds. A scene can be enhanced by the sounds of the location; the drip of water of stalactites near an underground pool, the murmur of a crowd at an open air bazaar, the howling wind in the sands as you cross the desert.  The folks over at Syrinscape – who aren’t paying me for this – do a wonderful job with their background audio. If you’re looking for some real professional stuff theirs is well worth it. But if money is tight you can try this wonderful tumblr post with ambient sounds for writers, or the excellent tabletopaudio site.

All of that exists outside of the game world, but music can also be part of the in-game world. This is especially true in games like Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons which a class that is specifically musically inclined like the bard, and in Pathfinder the skald as well. So what kind of music and songs do they play in game? I’ve played with some folks that have a music background and write songs for their characters to sing and I have to say it really adds to a sessions, as long as it’s not overused.

Some games will actually add songs for the characters to be introduced to in game. The Rise of the Runelords adventure path has the now famous goblin song. This song was so fun and creepy that the folks over at Syrniscape even have an audio version of the song for you to download with other music specifically designed for Runelords.

Have you used music in writing your games? Have you played music to evoke a certain atmosphere in your games? Have you as a player or as a GM written songs or music that characters or NPCs sing or play in games? How important do you think music in general is for games? 

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  1. We used to play Jean-Michel Jarre when we played back in the day. Oxygene is very evocative. Enya is also a favorite artist, and some like Burning River Brass. I fully intend to include Diggy Diggy Hole in a future session!

    1. I'm a big Enya fan. And some one posting a dwarf built while listening to Diggy Diggy Hole was one of the things that made me think of this topic.