Saturday, February 9, 2013

Campaign Design - Soundtrack First

As a companion to my earlier glance at some cheap Amazon mp3 soundtracks, here's some thoughts on how to take a soundtrack and make a game of it.

The key element is not to make the music too on-the-nose.  If the players are listening to the soundtrack and it's producing the same feeling as each other's actions or a GM's narration, then they are likely to drift between these things a little too much.  When music in movies (for the most part) takes center stage, it's likely there's no dialogue.  Since RPGs are entirely created through real-life dialogue (as well as miniatures, terrain and sometimes drawings and, did I just disprove this whole blog post?!?) it's important that your music provide some contrast to what you're doing - something where listening to the music, then listening to others, is switching gears.

The most effective Vampire: the Masquerade music cue I ever used was not a horror movie soundtrack, nor a goth track, but was this:

Let me tell you, with this playing while the characters stalked a terrible monster through a creepy vampire lair, everyone was on the edge of their seat.  It had some things in common with the feeling I was trying to create: it was cool, it was categorical/decisive, it's passionate it builds inexorably to a big climax.  But it importantly had contrasts: a female vocalist vs. my male voice, it's loving and romantic vs. the cold monstrousness of the scene.  Players remembered the scene for many years.

So let's talk about some other soundtracks that have particular feelings to them and how to use contrast in your campaign to make these soundtracks effective.  Again, these are all soundtracks currently on sale for $5 or less.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cheap Soundtracks For Your RPG

I've been using movie and video game soundtracks for background music for my campaigns for a long time, often creating "inspired by" soundtracks that were spread out over other genres for enjoyment outside of game sessions.  Amazon's MP3 store has a sale on soundtrack albums this month, so I thought I'd go through and tell you which were the best for gaming and why.

First, you have to make sure that the soundtrack you're buying is not so recognizable to your players that they are taken out of your fictional world and into the fictional world the movie or video game created.  In this respect, for your Firefly game, don't use the Firefly or Serenity soundtracks - everyone who cares about Firefly has already seen every episode a thousand times and is certain to recognize and respond to music cues from it.  Instead, look for Western (or Eastern) themed soundtracks to get the feel of the setting/action across (you are running your Firefly game like a western and not like a science fiction game, right? right) without removing them from the world of your game.

This leads to my first recommendation from the sale, Thomas Newman's "Skyfall" and why you should be careful with it.