July 9, 2013
Music For Fantasy Gaming
The first style of table-top gaming I am going to discuss in terms of using music with it will be the most popular; fantasy. Please be aware that when I am talking about fantasy games, I am referring to games such as Dungeons & Dragons that often have wondrous elements such as elves, magic, and dragons as a part of their theme. Now, while other games might have these elements to them, they might fall into other categories (such as Shadowrun being a cyberpunk setting despite having all of the above elements) rather than fantasy. For the purposes of this article, I am talking about what most players consider to be “classic” fantasy.
When discussing what music works best for fantasy role-playing games, the default answer tends to be using the soundtrack from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and while Howard Shore is an amazing composer, and Enya‘s song May It Be from The Fellowship of the Ring is absolutely amazing, these don’t always carry the same effect at the game table as they did for cinema. A lot of the music in these albums can work, of course, but as they were composed to follow the tone and theme of the films, not table-top games.
The truth is that fantasy role-playings games tend towards a more epic scale than The Lord of the Rings. Characters tend to be much larger than life in games like Pathfinder or Anima: Beyond Fantasy. As such, I find that music that captures that same epic feeling fits better. For this, I like to lean towards the more orchestral rock, music that combines rock and/or metal with elements of a classical orchestra. Groups like Nightwish, Blind Guardian, and Epica work well for this. The operatic singing and use of more classical instruments gives the music a element that feels like it belongs in fantasy while the more modern elements of their music gives you the more exciting tones you will want for those epic moments you will put your characters through.
Other music that works really well for fantasy gaming includes pieces from Celldweller or Immediate Music. Both of these sound incredibly epic, especially Immediate Music, as they are often used for the previews for film and television. Best of all, few of their songs have any vocals to them, which makes them perfect for background music at a game table. In addition to these, I also like to use Escala, Trans Siberian Orchestra, or even true classics like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
The best advice I can give Gamemasters looking to implement music into their games is to experiment and try out various pieces, both on your own and at the game table. Not a big music lover? Expand your horizons. Go onto Pandora or Spotify, listen to some of these bands I have listed. Try others related to them. Not a fan of any of these? Find some that you do like and try those. One of the greatest things about music is that there is so much of it that everyone is bound to find some they like and that work for their game. Just remember, at the game table, music is meant to enhance the experience rather than dominate it. It can be hard to find the right music for the right moment in a game, particularly because you don’t always know when important moments are going to crop up. Players are amazing like that, sometimes. Fantasy can be especially tricky in this regard, as it can be a hard genre to find the right music for.
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