I’ve blogged about this topic about a year ago, but I feel it’s time to revisit it. Just like in movies and games, some background music brings a nice sense of atmosphere to roleplaying sessions, and it helps make those epic moments feel even more epic. In the past year I’ve tried a lot of different things with regards to music in my Pathfinder sessions, so I’ll look at some of these approaches below.
The Random Playlist
This entailed me plugging my phone into our soundbar, which was on the other end of the room from where we play, and just letting it shuffle my playlist of various game and movie soundtracks. This meant if there was an inappropriate track, I had to stop, walk across the room, and change the song. As you can imagine, this didn’t happen very often.
Pros: The bonus here is that you’re not fiddling with your music player instead of trying to GM – it’s one less thing to worry about. If you’ve carefully selected the songs on your playlist, you’ll probably end up with decent background music for the whole session.
Cons: The obvious downside is that you might end up with a mood-breaking song at an important moment. And of course, you don’t have easy and direct control if the track is really not suitable.
Side Effect: As it happened at our table, when the random playlist landed on a totally inappropriate, crazy song, it was often during the sorcerer’s turn. And the sorcerer would generally do something impressive during that turn. This has happened often enough that it has almost become expected during a bit fight!
Verdict: It’s not always perfect, but the total randomness of this method has led to some fun and epic moments at our table. While I’ve pruned some of the totally unsuitable tracks from my playlist, I’ve left in a few of what I think of as the ‘sorcerer’s tunes’ for those epic moments.
The Controlled Random Playlist
This entaied me having my phone in front of me while GMing, preferably connected to Bluetooth speakers, or just the iPhone built-in speakers when necessary (Bluetooth speakers are definitely my first choice though!). This allowed me to skip to a new track if an unsuitable one came along.
Pros: This is great if your playlist includes some tracks that don’t fit into every situation, as you can simply skip them if they come along. Of course, depending on how the track starts, it may have already interrupted the mood. It is also perfect if you have a specific track that you want to play at a given time.
Cons: I find this slows me down quite a bit, especially if the randomiser keeps choosing the tracks I don’t want. I also find I’m a lot more picky since I don’t have to walk across the room to change tracks. It also means there are none of those fun moments that come from the completely wrong track playing at the wrong time.
Verdict: This method works fairly well at our table, though I do sometimes have to stop myself from wasting too much time on finding that perfect track.
The Prepared Playlist
This is one method I’d like to explore more. It entails hand picking tracks based on the mood of what I have planned for a session.
Pros: You theoretically have the perfect music for the session. You can just let it play.
Cons: Potentially time-consuming, especially if you don’t already know exactly which music you want to use. And doesn’t cater for unforeseen circumstances.
Verdict: This one seems like a good idea, but I think it could be a lot of work that could be derailed by players doing unexpected things. Perhaps preparing playlists for specific important encounters is more realistic.
I’ve come across Syrinscape, which is a subscription-based music and sound-effect app. I’ve heard good things about it, but I’m not sure it would suit my needs, as I don’t have a computer at my table, and the iPad app stops playing when you swap away from it, which would prevent me from using the other apps I use while GMing.
I don’t think there’s a perfect solution here, but I do love that technology has given me so many options. I’d love to hear how you handle music and/or sound effects at your table!
Featured image by Akeiron.