The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

5 Mistakes to Avoid in Picking Game Session Music

Music can be a great boost to a game table; it can add atmosphere and fill the silences. I love having music playing during game sessions. But, having said that, music can detract from a game session if used incorrectly. So, to help keep you on the right track, here are the top mistakes you need to avoid when bringing music to your game.

1. Preferences Clash
I highly doubt everything you like is also liked by everyone else you game with. That’s OK, its human nature really. But it becomes a problem if you are picking the music for a session and don’t take other people’s tastes into consideration. If your favorite song sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard to one of your friends, its important to cede to him; you not hearing that song isn’t going to wreck your night, but hearing it might wreck his.

2. Extreme Volume
It can be difficult to pick a volume for music any time you would like to just set it and leave it. But while at a party you might err on the side of too loud (because you never want to be unable to hear a song), at a game always err on the side of too quiet – you never want the game to be interrupted by music people can’t talk over (or ever have difficulty talking over).

3. Too Catchy
Many years ago I had a roommate who was absolutely addicted to Queen and Billy Joel – he got me hooked on them too. Then a couple of years later he was GMing a campaign and what music did he always have on? Queen and Billy Joel, of course. The problem was that I liked the music so much any time I wasn’t directly involved in the action of the game, I was usually listening to the music. Indirectly this led to my leaving the game because I just couldn’t follow the political intrigue that was going on.

4. Mood Wrecking
I ran a Star Wars game long ago where I would just endlessly swap out the two Star Wars music CDs I had at the time. I knew the CDs well enough that I was frequently able to time dramatic moments to the best music queues. The problem was that every time the Cantina Song came up it absolutely wrecked the mood at the table. Not only was it inappropriate for the mood of the campaign, but most times the whole game would grind to a halt for two minutes while multiple people acted silly along with the music.

5. DJ DM
A trap I fell into during the brief period I tried DMing with a laptop in front of me was to try to constantly pick out tracks that were appropriate either to what was happening or what was about to happen. I don’t doubt that some DMs could do this very discretely and have the players not even realize they were doing it, but what happened all too often with me was that the game would stop for a minute or two while I would search for just the right music for the next bit; this might have been acceptable if it wasn’t happening a dozen times per night.

Imperial March good. Cantina Song bad.

All this might make it sound like I am really down on music, but I am not. I really think music is a bonus to a game session, it just has to be done right. Play music that nobody hates, nobody wants to sing along with, at a reasonable volume, is mood appropriate and don’t waste game time fiddling with it. My play list at games usually includes Holst’s The Planets, Beethoven, Carmina Burana, The Lord of the Rings Sound Track, and John Williams (though no Cantina Song).

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October 19, 2010 - Posted by | RPGs | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Great points! Agree, especially with the use of laptops at the table. I’m having a similar conversation at http://digitalorc.blogspot.com/2010/10/effective-music-in-gaming.html

    Comment by Dylan | October 19, 2010 | Reply


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