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Gaming with Background Music

August 31, 2012

I am a lover of music and more specifically I’m a lover of scores to cinema and more recently to video games. Music in movies helps to underline the emotions, heighten the tension and add beats to the action, which can make it a perfect companion to a role playing game. Key word here is “can”, used improperly it can add a layer of noise to your game and work against whatever narrative or role-playing is going on. I thought I’d try to share some thoughts and a healthy selection of scores you can’t go wrong with (depending on the theme you are going for in your game).

In my opinion the most important element to avoid is lyrics in your music, it’s like having constant cross talk at the table so unless its lighter choral notes (see LOTR) avoid conventional music. Remember just because the music is good, does not make it good for background music during an RPG.  I try to pick scores that have a common theme throughout them as I prefer not to have to construct distinct playlists. I also try to avoid classic recognizable scores ie Star Wars as I find it oddly derails the players from the reality you are trying to establish.

Scores generally come in 2 flavours, suites or scenes. Most older school composers (Williams, Horner, Zimmer) tend to employ suites of longer tracks and a recurring theme throughout the score. Scene based scores are a newer trend and focus on specific pieces for specific scenes (The Avengers comes to mind). Suite based scores are generally better for rpgs since they tend to natural build up and down throughout the score but there are some great scene based scores you just have to find them (ie Crysis 2).

I’ve provided below a detailed list of my favourite scores to use in different genres of games. I’ve provided links to Itunes so you can hear some samples as well as a few quick words on the music itself. And yes, I’m a huge Hans Zimmer fan. Hopefully you make some interesting discoveries, feel free to share your favourites in the comments!

Not Genre Specific – While the music may be from Scifi/Modern drama it would fit well anywhere.

Battlestar Gallactica (BSG) Season 1 By Bear McCreary
Original Soundtrack - Battlestar Galactica: Season One - Bear McCreary

BSG: Season 2 Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 (Original Soundtrack from the TV Series) - Bear McCreary , Season 3 Battlestar Galactica: Season 3 (Original Soundtrack from the TV Series) - Bear McCreary and Season 4 Battlestar Galactica: Season 4 (Original Soundtrack from the TV Series) - Bear McCreary

Batman Begins by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture) - James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer

The Dark Knight by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
The Dark Knight (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

The Dark Knight Rises by Hans Zimmer
The Dark Knight Rises (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [Deluxe Edition] - Hans Zimmer

Horror Settings – For When you want to keep everyone on edge
The Dark Knight Rises (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [Deluxe Edition] - Hans Zimmer

The Mothman Prophecies by Various
The Mothman Prophecies (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Various Artists The Best for Keeping the PC’s on Edge

The Ring 1 & 2 by Hans Zimmer
The Ring / The Ring 2 (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Hans Zimmer, Henning Lohner & Martin Tillman Creepy

The Pledge by Hans Zimmer
The Pledge (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Hans Zimmer Haunting Choral

Sunshine by Various
Sunshine (Music from the Motion Picture) - Various Artists Sci-Fi Creepy

Solaris by Cliff Martinez
Solaris - Original Motion Picture Score - Cliff Martinez Jamaican Sci-Fi (See that is Creepy)

Historical Settings – Fantasy Adventure

The Last Samurai by Hans Zimmer
The Last Samurai (Original Motion Picture Score) - Hans Zimmer Introspective Adventures

Gladiator by Hans Zimmer
Gladiator (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard Sweeping Epics

Assassins Creed 2 by Jesper Kyd
Assassin's Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack) - Jesper Kyd And now for something completely different

Assassins Creed Brotherhood by Jesper Kyd
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (Original Game Soundtrack) - Jesper Kyd And now for something completely different too

The Fountain by Clint Mansell
The Fountain (Music from the Motion Picture) - Clint Mansell Very Cool and Different

Conan the Barbarian by Basil Pouledouris
Conan the Barbarian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Basil Poledouris Classic D&D

Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Howard Shore
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - Howard Shore All around best Fantasy Score

Princess Mononoke by Joe Hisaishi
Sweeping Fantasy Epic (not on Itunes, sample on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUyLdQ7MXp4 )

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind by Joe Hisaishi
Classic Epic Score (not on Itunes, sample on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZUppxT38Zk )

Modern Settings – Political/Thriller/Spy Stories

This music has some great background elements with minimal action beats.

Patlabour 2 by Kenji Kawaii
Political thriller (not on Itunes, sample on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHM52usPvY8 )

Source Code by Chris Bacon
Source Code (Original Motion Picture Score) - Chris Bacon Spy Thriller

Moon by Clint Mansell
Moon (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Clint Mansell

Syrianna by Alexandre Desplat
Syriana (Music from the Motion Picture) - Alexandre Desplat
Haunting Mid-Eastern

Inception by Hans Zimmer
Inception (Music from the Motion Picture) - Hans Zimmer Dreams and Nightmares

Prometheus by Marc Streitenfield
Prometheus (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Marc Streitenfeld Spooky with an alien vibe

Gears of War 3 by Steve Jablonsky
Gears of War 3 (The Soundtrack) - Steve Jablonsky Creepy War Stories

Blade Runner by Vangelis
Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition] - Vangelis Invokes all things Cyber Punk

Limitless by Paul Leondard-Morgan
Limitless (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Paul Leonard-Morgan Getting High

Modern Settings – Action and Adventure/ Chase

These scores feature a lot more action beats.

Bourne Identity by John Powell
The Bourne Identity (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - John Powell Running Scared

Bourne Supremacy by John Powell
The Bourne Supremacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - John Powell Running and getting revenge

Bourne Ultimatum by John Powell
The Bourne Ultimatum (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - John Powell People are following the followers

Iron Man by Ramin Djawdi
Iron Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Ramin Djawadi Comic Book Action

Crysis 2 by Hanz Zimmer and Various
Crysis 2 (Original Videogame Soundtrack) - EA Games Soundtrack & Hans Zimmer Run and Gun with a side of Creep

Space Marine by Sasch Dikiciyan/Cris Velasco
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (The Soundtrack) - Sascha Dikiciyan & Cris Velasco Ass Kicking

Salt by James Newton Howard
Salt (Original Motion Picture Score) - James Newton Howard Great Chases

SOCOM 4 by Bear McGreary
SOCOM 4 (Original Soundtrack) - Bear McCreary BSG Score meets more Asian influences

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier by Hybrid & Tom Salta
Ghost Recon - Future Soldier (Original Game Soundtrack) - Hybrid & Tom Salta Action Satisfaction

From → GM Craft

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