_THE USE OF MUSIC_
Music is a feature I
believe all GMs experiment with at least one point in their lives.
Either it be just background music from a radio or fully choreographed
symphony music, everyone tries it once. However, there is a curve
of skill in using music. There are ways to use it so effectively;
some players will think they are actually involved in an interactive feature
film, as every action taken seems punctuated by some wonderful chosen score.
The first trick is to
get a theme. I don’t mean a theme song (we will talk about that later);
I mean a theme to the music. Whether it be songs or symphony or both,
a GM must choose the music to fit the game and more importantly, be consistent.
Don’t start with epic soft music from Gattaca and segue into Front Line
Assembly (Techno Industrial). You can mix songs and symphony but
this skill is the hardest to master effectively. And despite what
some might think, if the music is consistent, it doesn’t really matter
what music is chosen for what type of game. The feature film, “A
Knight’s Tale” proved 70s rock could mix into a medieval story effectively
and very successfully.
Also, make sure the
choices are distinct. This is really easy to screw up using symphony
music (see later). You don’t need to make your own music, but perhaps
try to stray away from music everyone has used. The unsung rule is
that if you hear the song in a TV commercial, chances are, it’s heard a
lot. Also, if you only have once CD of music to work from, its probably
best not to use music since Players will get sick of hearing them same
music over and over and over again. Also some players might not respect
the idea of music. Good, experienced Role Players always do.
Usually only inexperience players or Slashers might be distracted by it.
This is a touchy subject, especially for GMs very protective of their game.
For my, music is PART of the game, and insulting that is insulting the
game. The use of music is the GM discretion. Try it out; see
how it works with the group.
When Daniel and Joe
played my Necropolis game, neither had heard a really effort in integrating
music before. I had already played Necropolis twice before using
music and this was my first great experiment using it. When a suspenseful
track from Aliens cued in as the two PC were encroaching upon a house that
may or may not, contain something very dangerous, the mood set. Daniel,
a very experienced gamer, expressed amazement at the success of them music
and noted that scene as what convinced him since he had not seen music
done effectively before. He said his heart was actually racing.
Later on, when Daniel, Joe, and three others sat in my Aliens RPG game
(I had all three soundtracks at that point—Resurrection had yet to be made),
all congratulated the perfect merging of music and game. On the other
hand, Terminals was my first attempt to not use symphony and instead try
out new age music like FSOL, Enigma and Delirium. This proved less
successful since my collections of songs were less extensive and the tastes
of music between the players were too varied. This only lasted a
few sessions before I went back to symphony.
|GM: "Its a micro-plutonium
Finlay: "So we
just wrap it in cheese-wiz and create our tiny star."
THE SET UP:
<<"Kitchen Table Set-up"
Keep with CDs.
In this new age of CD burners, the highest quality music is the best.
I started with tapes but soon became exclusive with CDs. Either way,
it would be best to not just have you favorite bands or composers nearby.
Instead, to avoid halting the game as you set up the next CD, burn a CD
of the music you will need in order you believe you need them. Or
perhaps make several CDs for every type of music I list below (Mood, Action,
The speakers should be set up behind the
GM or, with extensive cables, behind the PC themselves. Try to avoid
having them in front of the GM. Don’t be too loud. I hit this
wall and was stubborn to concede. The music sounds quieter from the
GM’s perspective because the speakers point away from him. To combat
this, let the players adjust the volume to a level they are comfortable
with. It might seem quiet…but not to them. Of course, there
are situations where music can be louder. This only applies if the
music is IN the game. If the PCs are also listening to the music,
it could be louder, or more intrusive to the scene since it is actually
part of it.
"Long Table Set-up">>
Derrick and Joey bolted into
a nightclub at the beginning of Necropolis, pursuing a drug dealer they
had a bounty out on. That evening was rave night. The doors
opened and the music kicked it, full blast. I didn’t make it realistically
club-loud but loud enough so the Players had trouble talking to each other,
as did their players. When the crowd became too dense, and the threat
of losing their prey seemed imminent, Joey rose his magnum to the air and
fired a shot in hopes of clearing the crowd. No gunshot was heard.
The music was so loud, and everyone was so into the dance, no one heard
or noticed the boom. Joey lowered his gun in disbelief and look back
to Derrick across the dance floor, who shrugged. They pursued and
finally caught up the bad guy. Joey fired another shot, but this
time, the shot flew through the crowd, between dancers and missing heads,
impacting on the villains shoulder and pushing him out of the window, through
a parking meter and into the window parked next to the street. The
music never stopped.
There are three types of music depending
on the situation of the game:
"Ground Level Set-Up"
|GM: "This is some
amazing armor you got there...How did you make it?"
Hollister: "I don't
know, Evans was trying to bake cupcakes the other day..."
Mood Music is more or
less the first type of music GMs experiment with. Usually, this is
a softer track in background to set the emotional level the GM is hoping
to convey with the scene. If this were a horror game, of course,
something creepy and ominous would be played. A little extra tempo
introduced helps a suspenseful scene, like PCs breaking into a high tech
corporate building. However the first mistake is when a GM uses it
ALL the time. Constantly having music in the background was the first
mistake I made, as the players never realer bother to pay attention when
an important music is played. Mood music does that…it sets the mood.
Only play it when a mood needs to be conveyed. Mood music tracks
need to be long and very simple. Too intense, and they become a distraction.
Only Symphony music is really effective with scary or suspenseful mood
music. When a mood is supposed to reflect some more upbeat, songs
are more appropriate.
Charles was one of
the first players of Pathfinder and he stuck with it until the end.
I perfected my musical technique through the course of the game.
My collection was so large, I used music no one had heard before or could
easily recognize. Charles hadn’t seen Crimson Tide by the time I
was using its music in my game. He told me later that he finally
saw the movie and throughout, listening to it, all he could think of was
moments from Pathfinder. Months later, he still told me the music
garners more recognition from the game than the movie. Perhaps that
was an indication I was using that soundtrack too much…so I stopped with
Crimson Tide and moved on to others.
Action music is usually
where a GM makes a mistake. An action scene in a movie can take anywhere
from thirty seconds to 5 minutes to play out. However a game action
scene, with its rolls and charts—that same five-minute action scene is
stretched suddenly to an hour. A GM might have a great action track
but no action music lasts an hour. Instead, the GM either loops the
same action track over and over again or connects a whole bunch together.
Action music sounds like a great idea but only in theory. The group
grows tired very fast of hearing the same music over and again, especially
in a Slasher game, where battles are more frequent.
Instead, a GM should
reserve unlooped action tracks to permeate specific moments in an action
scene or wait for a “Choreographed” Scene (see below). Some action
can use action music. Short encounters are a good example.
A car chase or plane crash. Sword and gunfights are often bad examples
considering the amount of rolling and dodging involved.
A good exception was
my first Alien RPG (many years before FUZION). There is so much music
available for that one series alone, when the aliens attack, I was able
to keep the fast pace going and still link up 15 minutes of music that
never repeated. However, if I were to do it again, I would have cut
down the amount of music and reserved the action tracks for Choreography.
|Brown: "We're making
progress. Things are getting worse at a slower rate."
The ultimate evolution
in game music, but don’t confuse the title with “no control.” Choreographed
music is a track that perfectly fits the scene at hand. Even music
cues coincide with moments in the scene. These scenes are often crucial
plot points in the game as well. Choreographed music can be mood,
action, or just a well-placed music set to fit the scene. Choreographed
action is usually reserved for set piece action—that means action set around
a prop including cars, planes, boats, trains, etc. Sometimes these
are scenes of sudden realization, or of horrible defeat. See how
vague this can become.
It is important for the GM to get accustomed
to the music. Listen to the track over and over again. And
then listen to it again. Get to understand the music, its highs and
lows. Find out where the tempo reaches its zenith and when the track
changes pace. You will be surprised how successful the music is and
how impressed a group is when you scare them and the music follows your
lead. This is why I called it the ultimate evolution of game music,
because it takes significant amounts of discipline to understand a piece
of music that well.
I may sometimes have
very one-dimensional games with stories that are hard to veer away from,
but one aspect of my gaming that I am the most the flaunt is my use of
music. I own more than 100 soundtracks from various composer and
movies and have memorized almost half of them. I usually can figure
out what track and from what CD to use before the scene is required, forgoing
the obvious delay that is created. The tricky part is finding a way
so than a choreographed action track ends the same time the game action
ends. This is the hardest thing of all. A few times, I used
that to my advantage. Pathfinder had two examples of using a music’s
finally as part of the game. The most prominent was an episode on
Stasco. For those not familiar with Pathfinder, Stasco is a giant
of a words where the population live in monstrous city block that move
on tracks to keep pace with the six suns of the system to supply power.
The group’s spacecraft as well as a ship they were helping, crash lands
on Stasco. Later, they discover that they have unfortunately crashed
on the tracks of one of these buildings. The buildings will not stop.
In the final minutes, as the monstrous building closed it, the PCS raced
against time to free trapped friends in the other ship and escape in their
own. I began the final track of the Se7en soundtrack, which is eleven
minutes long. I told the PCs that this music will not stop and when
it hits the 10-minute mark, the building WILL reach them. Coincidentally
enough, the music track chosen builds in tension until the climactic final
three. It worked marvelously. The crew escapes one ship and
flees to the other. The building demolishes one craft; the crew escape
in the other, the music closes and the ship flees.
Or scores, take you pick.
In episodic gaming, a theme track is a great idea as it gives the players
the feel they are in a television show, with a score that can get them
in the mood for playing. However, don’t make these themes long.
Don’t start each session with the full version of Queen’s We Will Rock
You EVERY session. It will get old very very fast. Instead,
mix it, cut it down. The theme song should not be more than a minute
or a most, at minute and half. The theme should be as hard to recognize
as possible so that when the group listens to it, they identify it as the
game, not the movie the music was taken from.
Songs are surprisingly the
most difficult to use. The tastes of the individual players come
into play. Some would even speak up at their dissatisfaction of a
certain song. Songs are also the most easily ignored and often fail
miserably to set the mood. Choreographed songs work well as does
action music (how many GMs have though of using Spybreak from The Matrix?).
Mood music however, seldom works. Never has consistently be needed
more than in a GM using songs. Don’t mix rave music with Country…it
just doesn’t work. Keep the songs varied but make sure they don’t
dominate the scene. Don’t be exclusive to one band either.
Change the songs to match the scene but remember to be consistent.
If you are using 80’s tunes…stick with them. The same goes for Heavy
Metal, Techno, etc.
|Max: “What are
those spinning symbols?”
It’s hard for me to recommend
specific bands or songs because of the obvious variety and numbers of songs
available. Although I will admit some preferences. Terminals
used songs to start. I used Delirium, and Front Line Assembly.
Like I said, it depends on taste. I won’t mention the big bands (U2,
AC/DC, The Who), but I do recommend you avoid one style: stay away
from youth—Brittany, Christina, N’Sync, etc. Do us all a favor…Thank
Front Line Assembly –
My friend called them Techno Ambient Industrial, but if you run a cyberpunk
game, FLA’s Tactical Neural Implant is a fantastic recommendation.
The Music is sparse on lyrics but the sounds are intelligent and quite
original. Also, they have dabbled in very ominous tracks fit for
Moby – Great
varied music that offers wonderful emotional tracks well.
Vangelis – The king
of mood music. Ridley Scott can’t be wrong.
Delirium – lighter,
ethnic style music from the same members of FLA.
My specialty. Symphony
music, if done properly, can propel a game into a new field. But
the tricky part is finding consistence. It would probably
be wise to stick with one style of music or maybe even one type of composer.
Symphony is great mood music and fantastic action music, but when it’s
choreographed, its magic. There is so much variety out there; a GM can
find anything to work in a scene. The problem is acquiring it.
Certain composers work better than others but the problem is using soundtracks
from easily recognizable films. Never use Star Wars music unless
it’s a Star Wars game, for example. It doesn’t matter how hardly
heard the track is…stay away. Usually, the idea being if the film
made 400 million or more and/or won an Oscar or original score, it’s not
a good idea. There are some exceptions of course. The worst
thing that can happen in a game is to play a music that someone recognizes
or just even forces him/her to say over and over again, “Where’s this from?”
RECOMMENDATIONS * The best
Hans Zimmer --
Hans is closely becoming my favorite composer. Many of his works
are not film-specific and his later films have only gotten better and better.
Steer clear of his early work (Top Gun, Days of Thunder). Backdraft
may be an obvious example, but stay away…its used way too much.
Red Line – The best mood soundtrack out there that no one’s heard.
Fantastic musical tracks and some real epic scores that last upward
of ten minutes.
A little overly used for a Zimmer soundtrack but now there are two CDs
available. Great action music in several tracks and some good ethnic
work as well.
Arrow – Really good for action music but the country motif may bee
Peacemaker – A great soundtrack with good action music that no one
A good ambient soundtrack save for those that contain dialogue. I
Jerry Goldsmith --
My old favorite. Jerry has been composing for almost 40 years.
He has amassed a lot of almost every type of music. Here is his best
work. Stay away from Star Trek.
Omen – The sole Oscar Jerry won came from this very creepy work.
Anyone thinking of doing a horror game or a story about the paranormal
should give this a shot.
Force One – Action Abounds. Really good choreographed action
Decision – Another action Track.
Recall – A new CD has been released with more than an hour from this
classic soundtrack. It’s a must for good sci-fi games.
Even though Aliens is very unique, Alien can be spread out to other types
of games. Good scary music.
One – A hard CD to find but it contained 74 minutes of good music,
more from Outland than from Capricorn.
Eric Serra – Unique,
unusual and hardly recognized, Serra music introduced itself with the films
of Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element). Although his
earlier synthesized work is very amateurish, his later work is fantastic.
Fifth Element – A good length but still not long enough. Great
and varied music.
Messenger – A failed movie but a great soundtrack. \
Professional – Unusual at best.
John Williams – Williams
is so good at what he does, his music wins awards on a regular basis…and
that’s the problem. His music is always so recognized, any music
played in a game separate the players and they can’t help but think of
the movie. Williams’s music is grafted on its movie, and virtually
impossible to separate…however…
of the Sun – One of Spielberg’s lesser known films (and why is that?).
Great music really only suited for choreography.
World – Avoid the Jurassic park theme, and what remains isn’t bad.
The all time best soundtracks
for each Genre (*must buys)…
(D&D, Middle Earth)
|Conan (Basil Polendouris)
*First Knight (Jerry Goldsmith
The Mummy (Jerry Goldsmith)
Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer)
*The Messenger (Eric Serra)
*Gladiator (Hans Zimmer)
*Stargate (David Arnold)
(Star Wars, Mekton)
|*Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer)
Lifeforce (Henry Mancini)
The Abyss (Alan Silvestri)
The Fifth Element (Eric Serra)
The Messenger (Eric Serra)
*Gladiator (Hans Zimmer)
*Stargate (David Arnold)
Wing Commander (David Arnold)
*Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith)
|Hardware (Simon Boswell)
*The Fifth Element (Eric Serra)
Alien (Jerry Goldsmith)
|The Abyss (Alan Silvestri)
Dark City (Trevor Jones)
*Total Recall (Jerry Goldsmith)
*Alien (Jerry Goldsmith)
|| *Air Force One (Jerry Goldsmith)
*Face / Off (John Powell)
Broken Arrow (Hans Zimmer)
Ronin (Elia Cmiral)
*Peacemaker (Hans Zimmer)
||*Alien (Jerry Goldsmith)
Sphere (Elliot Goldenthall)
The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith)
| <GM and
Penner: "You guys
were supposed to surrender."
to 1 odds...We've endured worse."
<Three hours later>
is one left...what do you do...He flees--"
Dias: "OH, he aint
gettin' away! Chase him down."
Penner: "I think
you've proved your point."
Fidler: "Kill him!!"