Music is a very important factor when running table top RPGs. Like in all films and computer games, if it is done correctly, then you can make your audience specific emotions at the right moments in time. In action sequences, you can play intense battle music to get players’ hearts racing as a group of Owlbears descends upon them. Or, before that even happens, you have an eerie theme growing more and more intense in the build up just before. Even simple things such as entering a tavern or the inside of a holy monastery should have a different theme from the simple tunes of downtime and free roaming. Having this type of music really sets the scene for your players and help immerse them into the world or quest that you (as a Dungeon/Game Master) have either created or are currently running that session.
I am a huge fan of setting the scene for my players whenever I am DMing. Although I am not a huge player of actual D&D, I have played a lot of the RPG Pathfinder, and due to the fact that I always get into creating the world, lore, and quests, I tend to be the DM more than most when we do play.
I have no problem with this as I love evolving the story or laying the groundwork for twists later down the line.
Personally I am more of a fan of creating my own worlds and quests, all using the standard Pathfinder RPG rules (mixed with a lot of House Rules to either speed the game up or make it more enjoyable for the players), and so when I am writing a new quest, I am always thinking about what music would be perfect for each section or encounter involved.
The classic ‘Fantasy’ setting is by far the easiest and greatest one to run. I have previously ran a Post Apocalyptic campaign and a Cyber Punk themed campaign, both using the D20 Modern rule set, as well as a self created D20 based Star Wars themed campaign, and finding music for these became a little more tricky. Thankfully a lot of awesome Retrowave 80s style music that is perfect for the Cyber Punk, or the Fallout-meets-Mad Max setting that I had for the Post Apocalyptic, but most of the time I always feel back into using the amazing fantasy-esc music that I would use for a more traditional role-playing game.
When looking for music for a quest, what better place is there than computer games. While films do have good theme songs and music throughout them, you’ll find that gamers have an ear the type of music that fits perfectly into a table top RPG game. I think it comes from running around a map or a single area, with the same piece of music playing over and over and over. You can’t get away with that in a film. A player can spend hours in the same place, trying to defeat the same difficult boss that they keep dying on, searching for secrets, or struggling to figure out how to complete a rather complex puzzle.
I have always found that there is a line between table top games and computer games. A lot of the mechanics in a table top game can easily be transferred across, and vice versa. I have often been playing a board game and thought to myself “This would make an amazing computer game!”, and I have often used ideas and mechanics, taken from video games, to add a unique sequence into a quest in Pathfinder, or to simply mix it up a bit.
The point I am getting at is that computer game music is great for RPGs (mainly fantasy, but if you know what style or theme you want, then you can easily find other computer games to take music for to fit perfectly for any style), so below I have listed some of my favourite pieces of computer game music that I have fit fantastically in Pathfinder quests that I have run.
I am by no means claiming to be the greatest Dungeon Master that have ever lived, as I mentioned before, I have not actually played much D&D, but I am a gamer and a writer, so the two combined means that I have made some pretty fun and exciting quests (sorry to blow my own trumpet), and players have always left coming away with a smile on their face and some great memories.
RPGs have always been about the players, and if you have a bad group, then no matter how good a quest you have is, or how perfect the music you have chosen for that particular section of the game fits, then the night is not going to go well.
The coalition between the DM and the players is what makes a fantastic game, but if you have a good group, then dazzle them with some immersive music to really draw them into the story that you have worked so hard to tell.
The best way is to use YouTube and create a play list, but make sure you get the ‘Extended’ versions, so you are not having to muck about too much with it. Sometimes if you have a large downtime or free roaming area, then be sure to have a couple of extended songs playing one after another that fits with that part of the game. There is nothing worse than the music suddenly changing over to an epic battle scene when the players are still walking down the sunny path towards a meadow, which really does give the game away.
The only issue with YouTube is that they have adverts. While the play lists are ideal, having an Old Spice advert pop up suddenly during a showdown with the final boss is a great way of breaking immersion.
So, with that in mind, here are my favourite pieces of computer game music for a fantasy themed Table Top RPG (In no particular order). I have tried to get a number of different games, but many games in the same series (such as Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda have many different songs that are excellent for this subject).
- Final Fantasy VI – Terra Theme
A piece I like to use for a bit of free roaming/downtime, maybe around an encamped army marching north to take on the war waging half-elves of Valmeria, or maybe besieging a fortress and soon Commander Smite will request the player’s help in assisting with the final push.
- Shadow of the Colossus – The Opened Way
As with the theme of the game, this piece is brilliant to use during an epic battle against a boss or a large mob of enemies. I believe that once my group had left the Emerald Wilds, and killed smaller dragons to lure out the Helldrake, this song kicked in as beast touched down In the smouldering ruins of the town it had just laid to waste. Nothing says “Epic Boss Battle” quite like Shadow of the Colossus.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – The Song of Storms
This is a great bit of music for a nice quiet township or, even better yet, use it how we used it and have it running alongside a great description of a tavern. When reading the script for the Drunken Kraken Inn, the Song of Storms fit in fantastically with the theme.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Far Horizons
When you think of wandering across vast open planes, trekking over mountains, and traversing the landscape to see beyond the horizon, you immediately think of Skyrim (or any Elder Scrolls game… at least I do anyway). Far Horizons is a beautiful piece which only gets more and more epic the further it goes on. If you are listening to all of the songs, be sure to listen to this one in its entity.
- Dark Souls – Ornstein & Smough
Of than Shadow of the Colossus, Dark Souls is another brilliant game you think of when you think of epic boss battles, and what battle is more iconic than the one against Ornstein and Smough?
While SotC offers music suited better against enormous towering enemies, I have found that the music of Dark Souls (mainly the battle ones) are much better suited against a more intimate (but by no way any less dangerous) battle.
- Lost Odyssey – Battle Theme
Other than Final Fantasy music, mainly their battle themes, another great JRPG that offers fantastic music for smaller and less boss-like encounters is Lost Odyssey. I have used this music for when the group have gotten into a fight with a group of wolves in the wild. You can almost imagine the moment when the screen cuts away to the battle and the character’s menus appear at the bottom, with music like this one. If it is good for smaller skirmishes against random enemies in a computer game, then it will be ideal for one in a table top quest.
- Child of Light – Aurora’s Theme
An amazingly emotional piece of music that is brilliant for an introduction, or an ending. While it is not long and repeating it would not be the best thing for it (although it could be done), using this song to accompany the players as they take that first step into a quest, or something to leave lingering in their minds when it is all said and done, works well. Of course it can’t be used for every intro or outro, but it can be used to work alongside any emotional piece of text that you might have.
- Ori and the Blind Forest – Up the Spirit Caverns Walls
Now not all adventuring through tombs or labyrinths need to be so bleak and foreboding. Sometimes a beautiful piece of music (such as this one) can be used to create a sense of wonder and magic, giving your setting a completely different feel from your box standard dungeon crawl type quest. It can be used if you are doing something a little more unique, such as having the party travel past magical glowing plants, or even if you wanted to lure them into a false sense of security.
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Back on Path
How many adventure have begin with a party sitting in a tavern when they are approached by Brother Keefe needing help with some strange goings on inside a crypt, or a cleric on a holy pilgrimage looking for adventurers to accompany him. It is the most overused beginning to any quest, and so, if you are going to use it, why not do it properly and have some amazing tavern music to work well with the scene.
Alternatively this song is brilliant if a town or a village is having a fête or some kind of festival. A little bit of happy lute playing and background discussions never go a miss, and this song captures that moment perfectly.
- Mass Effect 3 – Leaving Earth
Controversially, this one is NOT a Fantasy based game. As I said earlier, the right Final Fantasy song works well with a Cyber Punk themed RPG, and this Science Fiction game’s piece of music works brilliantly with absolutely anything. The entire song is an epic building up towards something. If you imagine a party suffering towards the end of a quest, desperately making their last stand against an onslaught of enemies and a looming final boss, trying to take the time to heal and avoiding opening themselves up for enemy attacks. It is times like those that you the party really does work together. Any alignment clashes are stripped back as the character literally fight for survival, and having a piece of music that helps keep the players’ hearts racing during that time, is only going to help make the moment more memorable.
That was just 10 that I could think of to use for any table top role playing game. As I said before, there are more songs within these games that are just great to use for anything. Pick your favourite game and try to remember the best piece of music from it, chances are it will fit well with the right moment.
Hopefully reading this has inspired you to play more. I know it has me. Now grab your dice, pawns, and rulebooks and make some epic and cinematic experiences for your players and for yourself.
Or better yet, tell us some of your favourite below in the comment section.