July 11, 2013
Music For Horror And Gothic Gaming
For my last piece (for now) regarding music and using it in tabletop gaming, I decided to look at three genres of gaming that I am, admittedly, not all that familiar with. The previous two articles, looking at fantasy gaming and cyberpunk gaming respectively, are the settings in which I have the most experience, where Gothic and horror based role-playings games I have only had minimal experience. Of note, I have only played in a single Call of Cthulhu game, which I am sad to admit that I really did not enjoy, though I am a fan of the various World of Darkness titles such as Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and others. Even so, I have played in and ran these games much less often as I have games of, say, Anima: Beyond Fantasy, Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun, or Star Wars: Saga Edition. Even so, despite my inexperience, I felt that it is important to give these genres mention, as they are two very popular genres of tabletop gaming.
For a horror game, music selected to play would need to be very low tone, almost to the point of ignorable. Creating a feeling of tension and even fear at a game table is a very difficult task, and having your players tapping their feet to the beat of a song will completely destroy any hope you might have of establishing that. I would suggest looking for music used in actual horror movies (and I do mean “horror” movies, not slasher films). Music in these films is used to add a sense of tension, dread, and suspense to the film, subjecting the audience to the same emotional states as the characters in the film are often going through. In a table top game, this is also what you (a Gamemaster) is striving for. You want your players to forget that they are sitting around a table telling stories and rolling dice with their friends. You want them to be in the shoes of their characters. You want them to sweat, to tremble. You want them worried, afraid even, and music can assist you in this just as easily as it can take that away from you. Be very conscious of your choices of music for this reason above all others. Unfortunately, I have no specific examples of music you might use for this, but I am sure a quick search on Google or YouTube could help you out.
For Gothic themed games, of which I have a bit more experience (see Vampire) there is a lot of music that will go well with the setting. Just like in cyberpunk gaming, the music for a Gothic game can have elements of oppression and, more importantly, depression and feelings of inadequacy laden in its lyrics. Feeling helpless, lost, and afraid are key. And, just as in fantasy gaming, orchestral music can help to add a feeling of antiquity. One of my favorite artists to use for these sorts of games is Marilyn Manson. Whether you are a fan or not, it doesn’t really matter; his music fits really well into a Gothic themed game.
No matter what your own favorite theme or setting of gaming is, there is music that will work for it. Explore. Try out new styles of music, even ones that you believe you don’t care for. Maybe you will find something in it that you like. Then, find ways of incorporating how that music makes you feel into a game and use that music to accentuate those feelings in your players. This is the best way that music is used at a gaming table.
Although it can also be nice just to have something going on in the background, too.
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com