Gaming with Background Music
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.
Historical Settings – Fantasy Adventure
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 )
Modern Settings – Action and Adventure/ Chase
These scores feature a lot more action beats.