In the episode of The IT Crowd, “Jen The Fredo”, Moss hosts a tabletop role-playing session, using music to create an “atmos”. The result is, as we know, ruddy mysterious.
The right backing music in videogames enhances the experience for players immeasurably – after a while of hearing the same score, sure, you might mute the audio and stick something on over the top of Skyrim, but you’ll always go back to it. The problem with tabletop gaming is, they don’t include a CD in the box, or slip a recommended listening list into the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Let’s try to fix that. Nothing will propagate a quiet atmosphere at the table like having no background noise, especially if your players are new or shy. So here are a few ways you can pump a little more atmos into your non-video-gaming.
Call me a weirdy-beardy-long-hair, but you’re probably going to want either Planet Rock or Classic FM (or regional equivalents). With the former, unless you’re playing Settlers of Catan, you’re going to fight something on the board at some point, and Alice Cooper will probably gel with a combat encounter better than whatever’s on Magic FM (NOT the preferred station for Arcane or Divine Casters). For the latter, classical music will be less of a distraction for the players, and work just like an orchestral score, underlining, but not overpowering the game at hand – this is the core principal of background music.
If you’re playing the Game of Thrones Board Game, you may as well put the soundtrack on. It’s as thematically appropriate as you’re going to get. Likewise, there are film and game scores out there that’ll match pretty closely to whatever vibe you’re trying to create, like using the Mass Effect Original Soundtrack in your CyberPunk Dystopia. Of course, if you’re running a D&D session for people in Middle Earth, or playing Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, then your choices for soundtrack are obvious, and will require zero work on your part, for a massive boost at the table.
I’ve been soundtracking my gaming sessions and listening to them while I write for years. They basically compose scores and ambient music – imagine if Hans Zimmer just decided to start a solo project and not do films anymore. Their concept albums cover HP Lovecraft with “Necronomicon” (including cheeky Evil Dead reference), Edgar Allen Poe with “Shadow of the Raven“, and if you’re planning on playing anything High Fantasy or Pirate-themed, “Blood of the Dragon” and “Phantoms of the High Seas” aren’t just going to be right up your street, but might even inspire some quests. If you ever played the popular Civilization IV Mod “Fall From Heaven“, the team behind that used Nox Arcana for all the music. I really fell in love with them after listening to “Carnival Of Lost Souls“; over twenty tracks of creepy, ambient haunted carnival, with a hidden gem at the end. You really should listen to the album, but if you want to spoil the surprise, here’s the final track…
Did you listen to it all? Good, right? It isn’t usually their thing – they do ambient and Neoclassical, which is why that pretty much blew me away the first time I heard it. Go listen to one of their albums – and wonder why you never did before.
Like Nox Arcana, Tabletop Audio is either musical scores or ambient noise; not even really being music at all, but the sounds of creaking hulls, wind in the sails and bustle on the streets. I haven’t had a chance to use much from here yet, but its another place to turn to when you just need a bit of something filling the room, something to create that all-important atmosphere. Everything is even conveniently organised into browsing tabs for you, and the site features a playlist maker so you don’t even have to check back to it once you’re all set up.
Unsurprisingly, YouTube can be a one-stop-shop for all your musical needs. There are playlists on there simply called “four hours of epic music” if you don’t feel like tailoring one yourself. You’ll also be able to find all your OSTs and Nox Arcana on there – but as much as I’ve talked about things being thematic, sometimes, it can be fun to change it up a bit. Recently, I ran a session of the original Serenity Roleplaying Game. It’d have been the obvious move to play the Firefly/Serenity soundtracks, right? Well we did, later on. But since this session was The Battle of Serenity Valley, I looked for something a little more militaristic in theme and feel. Lo and behold, the perfect thing was pre-playlisted on YouTube for me.
Reading my intro spiel out over this was pretty bloody cool. So there we go – you now have no excuse for a silent table.
Various Artists – Best Vietnam War Playlist on YouTube