GM Advice: The Importance Of A Campaign Soundtrack

Do you remember that scene in “Fellowship of the Ring” when the fellowship crests the hill, looking all adventure-y, and the triumphant music swells in the background? How about in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Darth Vader's Super Star Destroyer first appears, and you hear The Imperial March for the very first time?

Would any of those scenes hold up without those memorable scores? A good soundtrack is the difference between a good movie and a great one. Why should it be any different for your home campaign?

When you run a game, you are engaging everyone at your table in a cooperative storytelling experience. Everyone is sharing a visual you are describing, and musical accompaniment can enhance that considerably. Sure, you could describe the scene where the evil sorcerer summons a demon from a volcano to destroy the party, and it would be pretty epic. Or, you could describe the scene with this playing in the background, and make knock it out of the friggin' park.

What Music To Include
The key to music is being able to set a tone for the scene your characters are in. If they are meeting a contact in the seedy part of the city, you don't want Yakety Sax playing. Kinda kills what you're going for. But, if you have something suspenseful and mysterious playing, like say... this for instance, it adds some depth to the proceedings. Maybe even a little tension as the creeping feeling that the party is being watched begins to grow.

I like implementing various playlists consisting of a common theme. This way you can just let the music go without diverting attention away from your players to constantly change tunes. Each playlist should represent a certain tone you are trying to achieve, like “Boss Battle” of “Taven”. These two lists are drastically different, and should contain drastically different music.

It takes a little time to really accumulate a good amount of music, and even then, you really have to listen to all of it to get a feel for what instance you want to use it in. Sometimes its best to pick what you know. If you are a video game player, there are some excellent soundtracks that can be utilized to great effect. The Elder Scrolls games offer some excellent choices, as do The Witcher series, Pillars of Eternity, World of Warcraft and (for a more western feel) Bastion.

If video games aren't your thang (it could be a word), movies and television offer a robust variety of tracks to tantalize and traumatize. Also, did you know there was a D&D Soundtrack? It was made by Midnight Syndicate, whose catalog is perfect for just about any game you plan on running, especially if you are running a horror game like Curse of Strahd right now, or plan on running Strange Aeons later this year.

Ed The Bard's (Semi) Infinite Playlist
I wouldn't be much of a bard if I didn't bring the music to bear. This is a sample of some of the tracks I use to get my players amped up to get murdered. I've always used a good deal of playlists categorized by need. I was tickled pink to see that voice actor and twitch celebrity DM Matt Mercer of Geek &Sundry's Critical Role also uses playlists of his own. After seeing what music he has chosen, I did what most GM's that watch his show do... I seethed with jealousy, then jealously stole some of the ideas and added them to my current playlists. (insert emoji of a shit-eating grin). Below is a sample of what my group is jamming out to during our sessions.

Does your table have a playlist? If so, what kind of music really gets your players into the session? Let me know in the comments below (always looking to expand the library).

Make merry music, my friends,
+Ed The Bard 

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